Figured it’d be a good idea to get my thoughts on things I’d like to try next year down. The notes that I keep adding to on my iphone aren’t cutting it, or in existence (I think I’ve accidentally deleted about 10 of them). Here’s the first 6…
1) Get bigger whiteboards – I had students do a lot of work on whiteboards this year and I’m totally sold. The ease with which students can test out ideas is awesome (does make mistakes more fleeting though, no history to analyze later), as is the degree to which kids take ownership over their ideas and personalize them (color-coding, different representations, etc.) Kids need a lot of space though, and so I need to make bigger ones. I also want students to be able to collaborate on a task using the whiteboard (a la Fawn’s classes) Huge thanks here to Frank for his $2 Interactive Whiteboard post. I had them priced out through my school at the end of the year as whiteboards and they were crazy expensive, so going the DIY route seems to be my best option. No Lowe’s or Home Depot in Delhi though so we’ll see what happens. I wonder how much each one will cost in rupees?
2) Plan more effectively for discussions – For sure I need to read 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions but I’ve done a fair amount of Anticipating–>Monitoring–>Selecting–>Sequencing–>Connecting in my classes and I think I need to sometimes make discussions more about what-ifs, sequels or mistakes. There have been times when I’ve perfectly sequenced a series of student solution strategies during the summary, and posed solid questions to the group, and the discussion has come off like a bland recap. I think a big assumption here is that students are not interacting with each other’s methods until the “discussion” portion of the lesson (or that the “discussion” portion of the lesson is always happening at the end of class). If we are encouraging students to get all up in each other’s thinking during class then the last practice, Connecting, needs to get way more attention.
3) Continue rethinking HW – Midway through the year I changed my homework structure to a set 8 problems a night (2 practice of current concept, 4 review, 2 extension/challenge which are optional) after hearing about the idea from a session that my wife was in with Steve Leinwand. I call them 2-4-2s. Clever right? Anyways it seemed to work well (The ones I’ve made can be found here). I provided the solutions on the class blog and students were responsible for completing the assignment, correcting it using the solutions and then coding the problems with a question mark (“I don’t get it”), a star (“I might need to take another looks at this”) or a square (“I can do this all day (son)“). I didn’t grade or collect the homework but we did spend the first few minutes of each class discussing the problems in groups. Students knew to “start with their question marks” and progress up to their squares. If students had all squares then they either shared their method for a particular problem or worked collaboratively on one of the extension problems.
While I feel like 2-4-2s were definitely an upgrade from my previous approach to homework (problem sets based on the current unit) I’d still like to keep rethinking it. Lots of questions are still rattling around in here. For example: Is it really beneficial to provide students with solutions when I assign the HW? Should my students have more choice in their HW? If HW is for practice do all kids need to do HW? Who knows? I’ll keep trying things and see what turns up.
4) More puzzles – They’re fun. They make you smarter. ‘Nuff said. I bought a bunch of the ones I saw at MoMath a few weeks ago, and am psyched to try them out along with arithmagons & kenken/kendoku/calcudoku.
5) More games – Same as above. Games that help to reinforce content/reasoning for sure (I can see the Mistake Game becoming a quick favorite) but also ones that just get kids interacting with one another in a different way and that are just enjoyable. I also have an advisory that I meet with three times a week using the Responsive Classroom/Developmental Designs structure of a morning meeting (or Circle of Power & Respect in the MS), and games feature prominently as a way for students to develop social skills and a sense of community. Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe is for sure on my list of ones to try.
6) Put more of us in, and out of, the classroom – A humanities teacher on my team had the awesome idea this year to post a picture of each teacher from our 6th grade team from when they were in 6th grade along with their favorite book from that time, or a book that they were currently reading, in the hallway. Though I couldn’t dig up a photo I did contribute my book, and it ended up having a much larger effect than I had anticipated. Kids asked me about it, I discussed another teacher’s book with a group of students, and I even spent my entire lunch discussing a book that a student thought would be their 6th grade book when they became a teacher (in like “a million years”). All in all I liked the way it worked to reinforce the idea that we are a community of learners: always learning and always sharing. I’m for sure going to continue the “what am I reading?” tradition next year along with some other current info about Mr. Hannon so that my students can get a window into my passions and the ways that I’m still growing. I’ve also got a few ideas about how to better use the space around me. Right now I’m thinking one classroom wall for illustrations of the mathematical practices, another for cool mistakes and a hallway board for a rotating spotlight on a “middle school problem-solver”. We’ll see, but I know I’m super interested in continuing to look at the ways in which our learning community constructs, and is constructed by, the physical environment around us.
Blog post #2 in the books. Don’t forget this stuff Jake!