Thursday, November 10, 2011

It's Time To Break the Rules

The other morning my son and I had to leave for school when it was still dark because I had a morning staff meeting.  As we drove he asked me a question, "Mom, do I usually go to school at night?"  He is in kindergarten and he still equates darkness with night time.  What shocked me was the next thing out of his mouth, "Mom, the sun will rise over there" he pointed to the east, then he continued, "I know that because when I look that way (to the west) it is very dark, and when I look that way (to the east) the sky is turning blue and the clouds are pink."  As a middle school math and science teacher I was amazed and alarmed at the same time.  My almost six year old son was hypothesizing, thinking, and being a scientist and that amazed me.  What alarmed me was thinking about my middle school students and how they are obedient rule followers who no longer trust the thinking, hypothesizing scientist and/or mathematician who lives within.

I have had a week off for Thanksgiving and it has enabled me to get my head in the right place for my students. I have been able to follow my twitter PLN.  Monday I watched Angela Maiers Purposeful Play Keynote for the upcoming K12 Online Conference.  As I watched I wrote down the 10 Sandbox Rules and I observed my 5 year old son demonstrate the rules all throughout our week off.  I sat back, kept my mouth shut, did not interfere and realized, these rules are innately there, the kids know them, follow them, and when they step out of line, they are called on them.  You really have to check out Angela's video to discover the 10 Sandbox Rules!

So, what does this have to do with middle school mathematics?  My kiddos have been taught to abandon the Sandbox Rules and blindly follow rules that make no sense to them.  Interestingly, I have transformed from a rule follower to a rule breaker and I am encouraging my students to do the same.  Utilizing standards based grading has enabled me to do this.  This is my first year of implementation so it is VERY MESSY (which is sandbox rule #2).  The students and I are muddling through together defining standards and discussing what proof of understanding looks like.

We came to a place a couple of weeks ago that I had not expected.  We were discussing a math standard and the difference between advanced and proficient scores.  We began debating mathematical understanding in algebra.  My students brought up that my requirement was for them to prove understanding, yet I was punishing them for not blindly following a rule (Rule # 6 take it to the community when you need help).   I have always encouraged my students to solve problems in ways that make sense to them and to make sure that they explain their way so that I understand their process.  Yet on an assessment, I was not honoring the various methods of solving the problem.

 It was an eye opening experience.  My students were doing what Skyler did on our early morning drive: think, hypothesize, and prove their understanding of a math problem which is what I have been working on having them do since day one of the school year.  Outside pressures had momentarily gotten the best of me and thankfully my students pulled me back to the reality of how our classroom works.  We are going to break the rules and still learn all of our standards.  How awesome is that?

I am so looking forward to the upcoming K12 Online Conference on Purposeful Play!