Transforming my Math Teaching

I can’t believe that I have not written a blog post since September. I suppose this is evidence that it has been another busy year.I’ve been busy as the mom of three boys since August, as we are fostering a toddler. It has been such an amazing experience, but of course it is difficult to fit in everything (eg. writing blog posts). At the same time, I’ve been learning so much teaching for my second year in the Innovation Institute (an integrated PBL program), as well as being Innovation Coordinator for the program. And this year I’ve finished the final two of five workshops for Math Specialists in International Schools (MSIS).

I am not exaggerating when I say that the MSIS workshops with Erma Anderson and Steve Leinwand have helped to transform my math teaching. I am teaching biology and IB Math Studies this year, so unfortunately I am not teaching Common Core at present. However, there are still so many strategies from the MSIS workshops that I can incorporate into my math teaching – and sometimes in my science teaching as well.

What do I now do differently?

  • I keep my lessons as simple as possible.
  • I provide images/prompts/questions and ask students ‘What do you notice?’ and/or ‘What do you wonder?’
  • I plan for gradual release (PPTs) of information for problems and rich tasks.
  • I try to be intentional about eliciting student explanations of thinking (Why? How do you know? Convince us. Explain that please. How did you “see” that?)

There are some strategies that I used previously, but continue to reflect on and improve:

  • providing descriptive feedback (not a grade until summative)
  • opportunities for self- and peer-assessment
  • encouraging collaboration
  • using rich tasks whenever possible
  • having students (not only the teacher) model their thinking for each other
  • encouraging use of multiple strategies
  • fewer questions for homework

What does every good lesson need? It is obvious that a good lesson starts with the goal or objective; should have a task, problem or activity; and some sort of evidence of success. I have been more focused on also planning key questions in advance. This has helped me to elicit student thinking and student discourse in a more intentional and effective manner.

If you would like to have a better understanding of Common Core and how it can transform teaching and LEARNING in your classroom (and ultimately ensure students are excited, engaged and confident math learners) I highly recommend the MSIS (Math Specialists in International Schools) workshops with Erma Anderson and Steve Leinwand. One of the best professional development experiences I have had in many years!

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What IS Innovation?

This is the second year that I have been teaching students in a new program called Innovation Institute at Shanghai American School. I couldn’t help but reflect on this program as I read Part 1 of The Innovator’s Mindset. In fact, I actually read this book previously, but I am reading the book through a different lens now that I am teaching in the Innovation Institute. I am so grateful that my colleagues and I seem to be on the right track with this program…. our Institute is something “new and better” for students who want to learn in a collaborative, integrated, project-based learning environment.

I completely agree that we need to prepare students for jobs that do not currently exist, and it is our job as educators to help learners become confident creators, effective leaders and CRITICAL THINKERS. I love this short film (11min) The Adaptable Mind that says the skills people need to flourish in today’s world are creativity, curiosity, initiative, multi-disciplinary thinking, and empathy. Students have access to so much knowledge that what they really need to know is what to DO with this knowledge. ‘Soft skills’ such as those mentioned in The Adaptable Mind or the 4C’s (collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking) are becoming more and more valued. These ‘soft skills’ are often what set students or prospective employees apart from everyone else.

The following quote in Chapter 2: The Innovators Mindset really resonated with me:

We need to move beyond the idea that an education is something that is provided for us and toward the idea that an education is something that we create for ourselves. – Stephen Downes (2010)

Today, I shared the above quote with my Innovation Institute students before they spent time finalizing their ideology, mechanics and dynamics for a game that they are creating relating to stimulus material about competition. They will create their first prototype this week. I reminded them that they will get out of this project what they put into it; the depth of thought and how much they challenge each other will determine how much they learn and grow.

Another aspect of this week’s reading that resonated with me is the idea of the innovator’s mindset. I have long been a fan of Carol Dweck and have encouraged a growth mindset in my math classes in particular. In fact, I have shown this amazing video A Math Major Talks About Fear to my high school math students for the last three years and I have had my grade 9 students complete the free online course from Stanford called How to Learn Math: For Students. I have also spoken to my students about the importance of resiliency and grit in the context of having a growth mindset. However, I love that I can now take this a step further with the innovator’s mindset – students need to CREATE something with the knowledge they have acquired. I often intentionally plan units and lessons around students creating in order to demonstrate their understanding, but I have could do a better job of making sure that students are aware of WHY creating something is so important. If students create something ‘new and better’ – which they certainly have the opportunity to do frequently in the Innovation Institute – they are certainly pushing themselves to deeply understand concepts and think critically about what they have learned and how to demonstrate their understanding.

So why do I feel more confident that the Innovation Institute at Shanghai American School is on the right track after #IMMOOC Week 2? Students in the Innovation Institute are focusing on the 4C’s, visible thinking strategies and design thinking. Students are learning about empathy as they collaborate and work through conflict with their peers. Students have many opportunities to learn to be comfortable with uncertainty or ambiguity, sharing ideas, accepting criticism, and taking risks. The students who have opted to participate in the Innovation Institute are taking a risk simply by choosing to be educated in a way that is new and different from their previous experience.

I have been inspired by my students and colleagues in so many ways this year. I have never before described myself as ‘innovative’, but now I hope to challenge myself to find NEW and BETTER ways to demonstrate an innovator’s mindset.

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