Monday, February 18, 2013

Be the Teacher You Wish You Had in School

The other day while reading a blog post from one of my favorite educational bloggers: Bill Ferriter, The Tempered Radical I came across the following tweet:

This statement George (another one of my favorite bloggers/tweeters) shares struck a chord with me as a classroom teacher of 22 years.  When I started my teaching career, I gave myself 5 - 8 years in the classroom before moving up into some sort of administrative position.  However, what I realized is that my place is with the students, they are the ones I cannot wait to see every morning and think about during the evenings and weekends.  I tell my friends stories about my students and tears fill my eyes (I am a major sap head!).  Everything I do in my classroom is with thoughts of my students.  What I realized is that as a teacher, I stay in the classroom because I am determined to "create an environment I wanted as a student."

So, what am I doing in my class that I wished my teachers had done with me?  In the spirit of the common core and the inspiration I get from Dan Meyer's 3 Act Math, I have been working to change how my students learn math.

First, on Monday's our district has articulation time from 2:15 - 3:45 so the students have shortened periods and go home at 1:56 instead of 3:10.  I am using Mondays to introduce a "3 Act Math" type of activity that I then also use as the basis for my homework for the week.  I make sure the activity I pick is either related to our current pre-algebra content standards or will act as a preview for upcoming standards.  Here is an example of one of the activities we recently did and how this past week I referenced back to the activity as I introduced ratios and proportions.

Nana's Chocolate Milk (link to Dan Meyer's activity complete with video etc...)

Monday - I usually begin each of these activities with a story about myself and/or my family:
"During vacation, Skyler and I visited my parents in Oregon.  My mom, Nana, loves chocolate milk and Skyler loves to make it for her... I then show the video of what happened.

Nana's formula is one cup of milk to 4 scoops of chocolate, however, the video shows one cup of milk and 5 scoops of chocolate.

I ask the students to share some "math questions" they have and they all come up with
How can we fix Nana's chocolate milk?

After letting them fumble for a few minutes, and noticing that most of them are just doubling the "recipe" I stop them and throw a tidbit in "Oh, I forgot to tell you guys that when you fix the mixture, you can only add milk, you cannot add any more chocolate.  This really forces the students to think and work together.  

This takes the better part of the half hour we have together.  Pairs that are stuck are encouraged to walk around the room and "steal" ideas.  I cruise around and only ask questions to help them get unstuck.  By the end of the period, all of the pairs/groups have a solution.

Their homework is to write an explanation or illustrate their understanding of the problem/solution.  When they come to class the next day, they work with their partner to "revise" their explanations/illustrations as their warm up.  If a student does not bring anything, they participate in the group discussion and "copy" the groups/pairs end products.  (I do not penalize students for not completing homework - that is a completely different blog post.)

The rest of the week during class we worked on the standards in our unit of study, however, the homework all week was a  problem that related to Nana's Chocolate Milk: Nana's Eggs (the sequel to Nana's Chocolate Milk), Papa's Iced Tea.  Again, I have the students work on explanations and illustrations at home and bring something to revise the next day in class.

By the way, we did get a different solution than Dan's Solution Video - we added 1/4 cup of milk instead of a 1/2 cup, we must have thought about it a different way!  That is what I love about these activities is that they are open to the questions that the students ask.

This is one way in which I work to create a math class I would have loved as a student.  Problem-solving working to write explanations of my thinking, illustrating my math work and collaborating with other students in class.  Discussing, getting stuck, feeling frustration, persevering, learning from others, all things I rarely had the chance to do as a math student.

This past week when we started our ratio and proportions unit, I started by reminding the students about Nana's Chocolate milk and used that problem to create a concrete reference to define ration and proportion. The students loved it!