It’s not every day that I get excited about asking my students to give me feedback on whether my pedagogical approach is ‘working for them’. This time was different. We have been working feverishly this year to learn as many communication methods as possible. This includes low fi and plugged in options. The question was simple. “Does having choice in a classroom matter?”. I followed that up with “what would you like to tell your next teacher?”. Then I allowed complete free reign of how they answered that question. The SOLE stations were buzzing, the mini recording studios were in hot demand, the iPad card was empty and pencils were being sharpened.
I sat back and almost started to worry about what I was going to receive with something so open ended. When a student told me he was using Scratch to code a response I was at first puzzled. But I trusted my instinct and said go for it. I watched as every kid in the room was happily getting to work. Work spaces were being respected. Washroom sign-outs were non-existent. I strolled and peeked and mostly smiled.
Students were so excited to airdrop a final product to me. The cool piece is that I was collecting their responses for some B.Ed students to consider under the tutelage of an energetic colleague at Ottawa University. The audience was in the back of the students’ minds and was driving their work.
I gathered the many responses and created two ways to consider the collective voice. The first was made with Spark Page (cool app alert!). This is a peaceful way to stroll through images and words at your own pace. Videos cannot be easily uploaded, however, so I created a movie version using Shadow Puppet – a hands down class favourite app. I wish the soundtrack music lasted for the entirety of the video, but I suppose most student made videos aren’t as long as mine.
My experiment paid off and I’m so pleased. It’s a starting point. Students can handle choice. And now they know that too.
SHADOW PUPPET – with audio and video
I wish I could go back in time and learn math again – but the way kids are being taught math now. The one-size-fits all approach of traditional (re: my 80’s grade school days) math was manageable in that once you’ve practiced endless pages of computation you learn the formula really well. I did well in math…until high school when it became less about rote skills and more about application. I was lost. I could fill in formulas but I really had no deep understanding about why I was doing so.
I also look back and think about differentiation. I can’t recall being asked to solve things in more than one way. Even worse, I can’t remember being taught more than one way to do a math computation. There lies the problem of my math learning. Memorize something until it is a well-oiled machine. Hope that the ‘test’ asks me to regurgitate.
How is math learning different now? My students are taught multiple strategies capturing a variety of learning styles. Sure – we do procedural addition. To be truthful the majority of students still choose this method over other approaches. However, students try out other approaches like visualizing problems on open number lines (for the visual learners) and verbalized mental strategies in math talks where the students teach each other. If the use of an iPad app or GAFE suite app to clarify their thinking is requested and it’s being used in a focussed way, go for it!
What do we learn from this? There are multiple ways to solve a problem. This is so KEY. Every day I ask my students “does Mr. D. really mind which strategy you choose to use when answering a problem?”. Students emphatically reply “no!”. What a shift over the years. I’m looking for understanding – not formulas. If a student chooses to solve a math problem with donut doodles, I really don’t care as long as they show their thinking and arrive at an answer that makes sense. Will I perhaps suggest a more efficient approach? Sure. However we can’t preach out of the box thinking and then turn around and limit their output choices (are you listening EQAO?).
I’m really enjoying the positive sharing space a math talk provides. No marks. No paper. Just strategy sharing. Students are motivated to share or defend a different strategy. Yahoo! I would have thrived in this environment or had the opportunity to say ‘I disagree because…’. It changes the culture of a math classroom. At the end of the day, operational sense comes to some learners easier than others. But at least all students are in a safe place where making math mistakes has become a platform to start from, not a judgement that shuts you down.
I’ll be digging into this concept of ‘growth mindset’ extensively over the next year as part of a Ministry-funded project I am leading with an inspired teacher in our Board. Lots to learn and lots of learning to pass along. I look forward to seeing how I can empower kids and amplify their voice in their math learning journey. Welcome 2017!