So, with this blog having less posts than parent teacher conferences I have had this year alone, I feel that there is a bit of back story that could lend itself to possible future posts. In an effort to not have to explain myself later (and to prolong grading my second set of final exams), I will now give you a bit of backstory.
I have been teaching Honors Geometry for 4 years now. Every year I “reinvent” the course. I put this in quotes because I, of course, cannot reinvent geometry. Not high school Euclidean geometry, at least. My first year, I hurriedly typed notes daily, and I lectured to advanced (but undoubtedly bored) 8th graders. The second year, I compiled these notes into chapter packets and taught virtually the same way as year one (Promethean + notes) with decent success but little variety. Year three I made a goal: not to teach the lesson the same way twice in one week. So I did inquiry based learning. I did learning with play-doh. I did lectures. I did discovery learning. Can YOU write a formula for this situation?
I got great feedback from the students. “Class was fun!” But my students still spent tons of time on the suggested, yet optional, homework. And even then, they often wouldn’t check their solutions with the thoroughly worked-out solutions online. Class was excellent, but they were perpetuating terrible problem solving in my absence.
This year, I decided to attempt a modified “flipped classroom” approach. The students’ homework each night is to read a section of the textbook. This takes them 10-15 minutes…maybe. Having a choice in the textbook is key here. The students are encouraged/allowed to write down definitions, theorems, and formulas into a booklet (I suggest a Moleskine…they’re sturdy and look collegiate). When class resumes the following day, we spend 5 minutes or so recapping the reading, and I make sure the students have gleaned the correct information from the text. I also answer any questions they might have about what they read. Then, for the remaining 35-40 minutes, we work problems together. I compile questions (that used to be assigned for homework) into a worksheet that the students either collaborate on or complete individually. We discuss the results, sometimes one at a time, sometimes as groups presenting solutions, and sometimes as a “game” with points awarded for the most correct answers. In this way, I am able to see the students’ thought processes in real-time and stop them from making any conceptual errors more than once. It is critically important that if a student makes a mistake, he or she understands what went wrong and then is able to correct the error. Many problems after that must be solved correctly in order to replace the poor strategy that has already formed synapses in the brain.
I am hoping that I am helping these students to learn to critically read a text, take useful notes, apply those notes to problems or questions, collaborate to find solutions, and then deliver those solutions succinctly and with proper grammar to a group of their peers. On top of that, I am trying to “rethink homework“, as my recent Amazon.com purchase urges me, and to alleviate some of the nighttime stresses of my overworked students.
After 9 years of teaching, and 4 years of teaching this exact same subject, each year I find new things to try and old things to tweak. I cannot imagine that I will ever look at my curriculum and methods and say, “Yup, that’s it. I’m done,” and just teach that way forever. Each year there are new studies and new methods and new technologies that make my job as ever-changing as a computer salesman.
Not every teacher sees it that way. I bet they get more sleep than I do.