Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Beliefs to Live and Teach By.

Students learn through exploration, challenge, and dialogue.

So often we forget that students have dreams. Each child has at some point looked up to somebody as who they want to be. Each child has at some point thought about being a certain profession when they grow up. Some children have lost this. Students are trying to have fun when they're messing around and as adults we look at them as needing to grow up. How do we expect children to grow up if they're not given the chance to explore and discover? Challenging students to participate in activities of discovery promotes growth. The dialogue that students have amongst each other and share with family/friends furthers their understanding of the world around them. Students should be given the opportunity to explore, challenge, and converse as they need to create a path for themselves "grow up" and become adults.

My students are able to solve problems, given the opportunity.

Doesn't this go back to exploring and challenging? If I don't give my students the chance to think about a solution, of course they will never reach that conclusion. When I teach material and teach a process, I'm robbing my students of the intellectual growth of an opportunity. As adults, we look for opportunities to solve problems. Lack of household income - find a job. Miss your best friend in England - Skype them. No matter the situation, we are always looking for solutions. Kids must be given the chance to also learn how to problem solve. It is within a free context that the most creative answers are produced. With different ways to solve a problem, the more unique perspectives and better answers.

Math is based on concrete principles made abstract.

One of the most intriguing things that I've heard today is that "Math is abstract. You don't walk around the world seeing 2s like you do chairs." This is wholly true but we are founding our desire for abstract math upon the concrete principles that we are trying to solve. For example, we needed math to build the Hoover Dam. We could have created a unique mathematical principle for the Hoover Dam to prevent cracking at the Dam's particular size and the amount of water it will hold. From that principle, we can then take it out of context and apply those concepts to more abstract situations around the world. This is how discover in the real world. We look for examples and ask questions about that specific circumstance. Why are beehives shaped a certain way? Why do arches hold so much weight? From that point of discovery we then apply the same concepts abstractly. It's beautiful. Stone Arches are some of the longest surviving structures of nature... and now some of the longest existing bridges were built with arches.

Math is a body of knowledge, not a checklist of skills.

This is hotly debated. You needs skills to do math. True, necessary, but definitely not sufficient. If math was strict skill, we would not be able to apply addition and subtraction to every situation we come across. I wouldn't be able to balance a check-book because I was never taught. I can add my money in my pocket, but I can't track how much money is in my bank account. Knowledge is the ability to use skills in different contexts. We look at knowledge as abstract, but it is only abstract because it is applicable widely. Math is useful in everything we do, therefore is must be knowledge. That knowledge is supported by the skill that is required to actually perform the action we need to accomplish (If I know we need to subtract 3 from negative 5, I have to know how to actually perform the action versus just say it is necessary in my situation)

Math is beautiful, useful, and exciting.

I think most people have the biggest issue with this complex. We're raised in a society where we were taught PEMDAS, FOIL, SOHCAHTOA... acronyms by which to remember how to perform operations. We're forced to memorize these, otherwise we will not succeed. The truth is that math is so much more than these mundane, sometimes useful, sayings. Let's anaylze the beauty of math. Take a look at this picture:

Beyond your inclination to say "I don't like cities" or "I love the city. OMG So Pretty"... What is beautiful about it? The sky-high buildings? The lights that showcase the calm streets? Is it the calm, tree-lined streets?

Would it have been possible to build this city without math? The beauty of it all was founded on ideas that required math to develop. Every additional level on a building required engineering to prevent collapse, financing to ensure completion and even architecture to develop beautiful structures.

Math's uses turn into beautiful things. We can envision every swipe of the pen(cil) on the paper as one more movement toward beautiful creations.

The utility is clear. With math we create living spaces, we create movement in the world and even more now-a-days, we see the need to calculate our remaining resources and developing solutions to prolong depleting our nature.

Every advancement is exciting. "New Drug Prevents Death From Over-Caffeination" (I'm hoping they develop this for my sake). Our lives are getting increasingly better and we are living better and better. We see happiness as we raise the levels of those around us. Happiness breeds happiness, which breeds excitement for more happiness. It's a loop, but nonetheless a useful one.

My commitment:

My commitment rests on how I will use all of these beliefs to better those lives of my students in context of math. My commitment is to use beauty in every lesson, to allow students to develop knowledge and to never forget my students are young adults waiting to grow by bounds and bounds. I will give them the chance to explore, create solutions and create more beauty in the world. You can see this in my vision for my students and the discussion-based method of teaching I will use in class. I'll post that vision in a few hours after I complete it more.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

My Story - In a "now" context

Today we have sessions. It's the start of our Orientation into our content areas. For the next three and a half days, we will be learning how to use our visions of our classroom to be great math teachers.

In our first session, we were asked to figure out our story. A story that has a strong lead character, one that has an inciting moment, and ends with a conflict that frames the story. After thinking out loud throughout the session, we've been commissioned to write a story that reflects who we are, why we are here and the context of our story in the now considering we just ended Institute.

So here it goes:

5 weeks ago, I started on a journey. This journey was new, exciting, yet nerve wrecking. I was going to become a teacher to young adults that I had never met with a group of fellow Corp Members that I had never spoken with.

Days came and went, bonds grew and waned and conversations blossomed and faded. Ultimately, I finished my 5 weeks of training and endured the 4 weeks of teaching during that time.

How did I see the world during this time? A whole load differently. For the first time, I was no longer in a predominately white suburb or city. I am now in areas that are nearly all black.

I faced teaching kids that have grown up with biases that have put them at disadvantages. These same kids were often given excuses for their low performance and passed to the next grade.

I taught day in day out, analyzing my performance in front of my students. Each one deserved my attention and each one had a difference need. I calculated my lesson plans as best as possible at the same time I decided to experiment with my kids' abilities. I taught by lecturing on Day 1, I gave guided notes and moved around the room on Day 2. By week 4 of teaching I had used games, student-led discussion and rigorous questioning to get my students to learn.

My kids led me through hoops of non-participation to over-talking. Each warranting a different reaction, but I was still learning. Facing the challenges I knew that my students would learn from me, but that they would give me so much more in return.

I now question why every student in my classroom says they will go to college. Are they going for themselves or are they going for their parents whom have forced this idea upon them? I question why my students are reacting to my lessons in certain ways and I ponder the effectiveness of the same lessons. Are they rowdy because my game is fun or because they're disinterested? Are they even learning from my notes and activities?

Ultimately, I have come to see that these are issues that everyday, as a teacher, I will question and plan for. No new day will be the same as a previous one. The brutality of reality can be hard for some to bear, but these are moments that we are given to question our own abilities and how we can master our skills.

I must use every ounce of wit, every ounce of charm and every ounce of common sense to out-run, out-smart and out-perform these students. I must use every chance of growth, every chance of acknowledging weaknesses, and every chance of using strengths to get my students to bloom and prosper.

I foresee triumphs of students learning and getting A's. I desire to see that day that my students understand that I am firm and challenging so that they can learn. I will succeed at developing my classroom in many different ways after facing challenges.

My story is that I have seen some of these challenges, I have questioned my perceptions and I have made adjustments in course of teaching. A strong lead character must be charismatic, energetic and relatable. Challenges must have an end and triumphs must live on. Each of these together, over the course of 4 weeks in teaching have taught me a lot and over the course of the year my story will change as I see more challenges that lead my to change my trajectory and work harder for my larger goals in teaching and as part of a movement toward quality education systems.

I look forward to using every resource as a means to better myself, my school, my community and my students.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Testing Day - Testing my skills or the student's learning?

It's been a while since I last posted... I'm hoping to pick up speed... Scratch that... I will pick up speed.

As part of Teach For America, it's no longer about the coulds and shoulds, it's about the I wills and I musts.

I will start blogging more. I will teach my students to the best of my ability.

I'm excited after these past 5 weeks to see what my students have learned. As you could guess from the title of the post, today is testing day. In fact, my first student just finished his test... Yes, I should be correcting it, but I also need to write this blog because I'm slacking.

A lot of people will give me slack for not writing because "I've been so busy teaching." or "I must be exhausted every day." To be honest, I've been having the time of my life.

Don't get me wrong, teaching is not easy. Teaching can be fun though. For me, it was the teaching mixed with the learning that has made Teach For America Institute (training) so much fun.

Everyday, I went into my classroom thinking about how I could better serve my students. There have been days where I just felt that my students weren't getting it and others that my students were making strides. Even though my students were getting 30s, 60s, and the occasional 100s on our end-of-day exit tickets, I knew there was a lot of work to do.

Test day is over... (I got distracted by a student asking a question)... The scores are in. There was a lot of excitement all over the school. "Oh my student made 99% progress toward his growth goal!", "My student made 85% toward her growth goal!"...

I understand that people are excited. I'm proud of my students as well! One student scored 105% of her growth goal, another 97.8% of his. The list goes on of the positive growth that my students have made.

Let me be honest, though. I'm not satisfied. I'm a part of Teach For America to hold my students to the highest degree of rigor possible and I expect the highest scores from my students. It is great that we give them a goal to achieve for our 3 weeks of learning based upon past statistics, but I do not believe in growth goals. My student that scored 105% of her growth goal scored a 58 on her test. How dare I hold her to the expectation of getting a 58 on a test?! She should be scoring a 100 on the test. Regardless of where she started we need to hold true to our motto of holding high expectations. We're here for 3 weeks and I will hold my students to the high standard for those 3 weeks. They learned a lot, but they could have learned so much more if every person was committed not to the 58, but to the 100.

Like I said, I'm so proud of the progress my students have made. My students tried hard on this test. They deserved a 100 on the test for effort, but they didn't have the expectation of getting a 100.

Let's backtrack a little, this was a test of my students knowledge, but more importantly of how well I taught my students. Understandably I've been teaching for a total of 16 days this summer. In 16 days we saw my students grow so much and I am proud. I have learned just as much if not more from my students.

I look forward to moving forward to my full-time position at Lanier High School in Jackson, MS. I'll start August 7 and I will teach Algebra I and Compensatory Math II (Pre-Algebra). I'm going to my students to the highest standard possibly. They are in school to learn for themselves - to unlock the golden doors of their freedom. Their successes will be my successes, their failures will be my failures. Ultimately though, I will be the one to push them as far as they can go. I expect all my students to get 100s in my class. I will document their growth to prove to everyone that they can and they did. I will show the world that if you give students a high expectation and goal, they will meet it.

There is a brilliant child locked in every student. Marva Collins