Thursday, May 27, 2010

Changed My Classroom By Changing My Seat / Insert Catchy Title Here

Recently, I have moved where I work during class from the front and center of the room to the back center of the room where my desk is right next to a student's desk.  This was inspired by a few conversations I've had with students who went on exchange programs to France where I was curious to see how classrooms were set up in France.  Over the course of those two months, I have witnessed amazing changes within my classroom, more importantly amazing changes in my student perception.

Why did I move my desk?  I felt I was using the interactive whiteboard too much and that students should use  it more than me.  I felt like I was telling them what to do, rather than having them do.  I moved because teachers have been standing front and center for 50 years and I wanted to be different.  I  wanted to give my students more control of my classroom.  I had a curiosity about what would happen if I did this, and what types of changes would I see.

The most major change has been their perception of the classroom.  They've realized that it's about them, and hopefully by me being as far away from the front of the room as possible, they have gathered that I'm next to them acting as an investigator.  A great example of this is from my Calculus class where I assigned a project in which students had to use a piece of posterboard(they were all different dimensions) to create a box with the maximum possible volume.  Not only were they having a unique experience with the concept of optimization, but there was so much more in the realm of basic skill that they were doing.  Some students determined that they need to remove squares of size 6.43 from each corner of their where do they find 43/100 on a standard ruler?  The amazing conversation and comparison of strategies that resulted was completely unexpected by me.  It wouldn't have happened if the students didn't feel empowered to have those conversations. 

A classroom run mostly by students has created a completely different challenge for me as an educator.  I never give a thought to the amount of work that I will distribute or which examples I will show.  I give most of my thought to what will create a good conversation and what will lead them to the skills I'm trying to develop.  Then, WE(me and the students) can develop a few examples and see if our generalizations are correct or need adjustment. 

When students are comfortable in this environment (after they've learned a different set of rules for maintaining the environment) they purpose themselves in whatever way suits them.  There's something great about providing your students with several different options that can all be unique to them, and watching them choose and interact with course content that way.  They may only do 2 or 3 "math problems" in the course of a day, but the learning experience is of such higher quality than cranking out 50 derivatives. 

Students are very capable of running a classroom and taking responsibility for their own learning, so give up control of your classroom and see what happens....

Thanks to MrsBMG for inspiring this post.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Better Work vs. More Work

What's the point of assigning homework?  Why must a student take work home with them to complete and bring back to school the next day?  As a professional, I know I try my hardest not to bring any work home, getting as much done as I can while at school, and only bringing things home if it's absolutely necessary.  So why do we force our students to do this?  I think we've been had once again by the school that is a grading institution rather than a learning institution. 

Homework is the ultimate status quo preserver.  The students that have learned the material go home and receive verification that they in fact know the material.  Or, the student that has already learned the material will copy the answers from a classmate during homeroom so that they do not jeopardize their "grade".  What about the student that hasn't learned the material.  I've witnessed firsthand the "benefits" that a student that is still learning material gets from homework.  They receive confirmation that they are still learning.  Some of them use outside resources and textbooks to get their information, and continue their learning process.  Others just jot something down so that they get "credit", however there has been no learning that takes place.

Does a set of problems to be completed and turned in the next day really generate a high quality learning experience?  Most of the homework that gets done is done out of compliance, which is hardly a learning experience.  I think we should start making our homework assignments things that matter to a student that will enhance their learning experience, assignments that do not necessarily require a product that can be checked the next day.  I think kids should be completing homework that involves experimenting with web-based applications, reading interesting articles, watching videos, sending an e-mail to a professional in that field, organizing their thoughts with two or three of their peers, participating in online discussions.  All of these things enhance the learning experience, but will lead to better discussions between students in class the following day.  How often does 1-25 Odd lead to high quality discussion the next day? 

I really do not think that "more work" leads to improvement of an individual's ability.  Yes, a student can probably go from basic skill level to slightly less basic skill level by doing more work, but we see all the time that "better" work leads students from basic to advanced in much less time.  I have yet to see a presentation at an education conference titled "Assignment Overload: Enhancing Student Achievement Through 100 Exercises a Day".  Every presentation at an ed-conference revolves around the exact opposite thought - getting your students to participate and create in "better" work. 

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Money Trees - An Attempt at Reform

My goal is to "reform" the trees in the back of my house to become money trees. They are currently not growing money, but I would like them to start doing so in the near future. I have outlined two proposals and would appreciate some commentary as to the appropriateness of each proposal.

Proposal 1
I will begin by mandating that the trees produce money. Branches that are not growing money must be removed, since they are not meeting what is mandated. Each day I will step outside, and any branch without as much as a $1 bill on it would be pruned and discarded. The trees should eventually "reform" and provide the money that I have been requiring of them.  If they have not "reformed", they will be cut down so that another tree can have the opportunity to form into a money tree.

Proposal 2
I will research the task of growing money on trees. I will see if in fact trees can be changed to grow $1 bills, and follow all necessary steps to make sure I am "reforming" my trees into money trees. If it calls for planting coins/dollars at the base of each tree, then I will do that. If it calls for water every day and moderate sunlight, that is what they will receive. If in fact the trees do not produce money after this, an evaluation will need to occur. Do I continue my "reform" efforts? Do I seek an alternative method of "reform"? Shall I work on a new and innovative approach towards creating money trees? Do I cut down the trees at the end that are not money trees, or should I allow them to continue existence and let them serve a different purpose?

Which one of these proposals is the appropriate way at achieving the impossible task of creating money trees?  Are there alternatives to these approaches?