Even in my two short semesters as a teacher assistant and student teacher, I’ve realized the power of sharing amongst teachers. I’ve read countless blogs, pinned an infinite amount of “teacher tips” and conversed with multiple teachers to find out what’s working (and not working) in their classrooms. What good is it to have something really great going in your classroom if you don’t share it with the rest of the teaching community? Aren’t we supposed to be improving students’ education, not vying for the “best teacher” award? It is for this reason that I would like to share some of the following ideas with whomever would like to listen.
1. Evernote for reflection: this program was introduced to me by my CT during my student teaching semester. It is an app that can be downloaded to a smartphone or tablet, as well as an internet site where an account can be created. We had a shared folder for our geometry classes, and every day I would create a new entry with the agenda for the day. Then, at the end of the day, I would reflect on the lesson in the last column of our table. This could be something as simple as “this lesson worked perfectly today. The timing was great and the students seemed to enjoy what we did.” It could also be as detailed as “today was a disaster. Instead, this is what I would do in the future…” and then lay out a plan for next time I teach this concept. I really liked having this online journal to go back to so that I could see what techniques went over well with my students and which ones I could toss. It also helped me see how far I’ve come, as well as how far my students have come throughout the semester.
2. Avoid the book: we did a project called the tin man project to help students learn and understand surface area. They were given no formulas, told not to look in the book and set free in groups. Together, they brought in items (at least 1 of each of the following: cylinder, rectangular prism, sphere and cone) to construct their tin man or animal. Then, they had to figure out how to cover it using the least amount of tin foil possible, also taking into account that the length of one of the sides of the tin foil sheet they would receive for each body part was predetermined. The students were split into groups based on similar overall class grades so that I knew where to spend the majority of my time. The entire activity took about 5 days, and included a few practice problems on worksheets at the end of each day to make sure they could transfer the practical knowledge to mathematical problems. Overall, the students told me that they really enjoyed the project because it was a nice change of pace. Of course there were some students who just really prefer to work alone on worksheets and problems, but the point is that we were able to reach a wide variety of students.
3. Technology rules (usually)!: there is a website called infuselearning.com, and I’m convinced it’s magic. My students LOVE using this tool, even though they’re doing challenging word problems most of the time that we use it! Basically this app turns a tablet (in our case iPads) into a whiteboard. Students join your classroom then draw out their responses in various colors and submit them to the website. The website then allows you to display all the answers so that we can go over them, review whether we agree or disagree and discuss common misconceptions. Of course, students love making up their own display names (as long as it’s school appropriate) and drawing elaborate figures and detail into the representations of the story problems. I just think it’s great that they’re enjoying the work that we’re doing in class. Whenever they see it written on the board in the agenda, it’s all they can do to refrain from asking me every two minutes when we will start. That’s the type of enthusiasm I’m looking for from my students!
4. Give it purpose: this was feedback I received from both of my field coordinators, as well as something my CT and I discussed as a focus for this trimester. Instead of simply passing out worksheets, assigning problems and doing activities, tell the students why we’re doing them. They’re much more likely to buy into an activity if they understand that it has a deeper purpose or meaning. For example, I noticed students rolling their eyes during one exercise that was meant to show them a tool for studying–saying/explaining concepts out loud to ensure comprehension. It then dawned on me that I had never given them a reason to do this, I had simply asked them to get in groups and begin explaining. So, I then took the opportunity to let them know what a great study tool this was, because sometimes we think we understand a concept or how to do something, but then when we go to explain it to someone else, we realize we don’t understand it quite as well as we had thought. Just that quick prelude would have made a difference in how they viewed the activity (at least, I believe it would have), but so often we forget to give everything purpose and meaning. We know why it’s important, but students need to be told and reminded that there is a purpose for everything we do in the classroom. And if we as teachers can’t come up with the purpose, then that activity should probably be tossed!