Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"AP Kids" are not the only ones who need quality learning experiences

After hitting the Google Reader hard while at Subway the other day (probably should've been eating lunch and relaxing instead of working) I was inspired by @InnovativeEdu's post on asking kids to design their own learning. Having just switched to the project-based learning format for my classroom, I love to share what my students are doing at these professional development sessions we conduct.

The question that always comes up is "Yeah, but what level do you teach?"  When my response is AP Statistics, it's immediately dismissed since "they are AP kids."  So what if I said, "I had this great lesson where I stood and lectured for 46 minutes with zero audience participation!"  I can almost guarantee to have the same response, "Well, your lecture worked so well because they're AP kids, no way that would work with my 4.0's!"

As an educator in a professional development workshop, why not spend that time to think of ways to reach the kids that are not "AP kids".  It seems like that would be a better use of time than to confirm your suspicions that there just isn't anything that works to educate those that are not taking Advanced Placement courses.

The students in 4.0 classes are the ones that have been most vocal about being not interested in what you have to say.  They are students that are completely unwilling/unmotivated to work unless it interests them.  Know what is especially uninteresting...x's, y's, and slopes of lines.  But these lower level courses cover basic equation solving and "find the slope" the exact same way, over and over again from the time the student is in 9th grade until 12th grade.

Great lessons, quality education, and interesting projects shouldn't be reserved for the best and brightest students.  The 4.0 students don't need more lectures and more basic junk that they don't care about.  They need to be interested, first and foremost.  They don't need more discipline or a rigid classroom structure.  They've told you 100 times that they hate that environment, so stop imposing it on them.

When I see my "AP kids" work on a project that they're excited about (sampling teachers in the school to see if they have tattoos, experiment on whether or not people can walk and text, see how often radio stations repeat certain songs) they aren't excited about it because they're "AP kids".  They aren't excited about it because I threatened them with detention if they showed a lack of enthusiasm.  They're excited about it because they had the choice in what they wanted to do.  They're students, there is no way they are so drastically different than their peers that just so happened to not do well in one math class so they were forced to slide down the ladder and be stuck in "4.0 world".

Oh, and they learn way more from me doing their own projects than they ever could from answering some multiple choice and some free response questions for me.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reading through state standards(PA), going "mental"

I am spending my snow day planning for a presentation on technology integrated K-6 math instruction.  The focus of my session is on generating student inquiry and keeping technology completely transparent.  I am keeping this presentation aligned to state standards and vision, and doing so makes me very uncomfortable.  These standards/essential questions/competencies seem to all center around being able to generate a correct answer for a test.  This elementary math curriculum framework can be found at the Pennsylvania Standards Aligned System Website.  Here's a few phrases I don't particularly care for:

Taken from the 2nd Grade Mathematics list of Big Ideas and Essential Questions:
1.  "How do we know when it is appropriate to estimate or when it is appropriate to use mental math for an exact answer?"
The person that included the phrase "mental math" is clueless in the area of mathematics.  Estimation and approximation are (in my view) much more "mental" than development of an "exact" answer, yet they are projected here as completely non-cerebral tasks.

2.  "Develop extended understanding of multiple models, and properties of addition and subtraction, leading to fluency with efficient, accurate and generalizable methods to add and subtract multi-digit whole numbers and develop quick recall of addition and related subtraction facts. Select and apply appropriate methods to estimate sums and differences or to calculate them mentally."
Again, here they reference calculation as being done "mentally" and estimation as something that's done as an alternative to thinking.  I also don't like the use of the words "efficient" and "quick recall" as they imply that the student that adds two numbers in 10 seconds is somehow better than a student that adds two numbers in 10 minutes.

As we move towards common core standards and the like, is this the language that is to be used?  If so, mathematics instruction will never be more than an instruction of process.  A focus on efficiency over a focus on an understanding of mathematics keeps us at this procedural level.  Maintaining that estimation is done non-mentally, now we're completely missing the boat.  Right answers are not the most important part of learning mathematics.  Isn't it time we start asking our students to experiment and create in their math classes, instead of simply generate the same right answer that 25 other classmates generated?