No Classroom – Our New Math Office

This year my math department decided to “office” together.  This means that we took a classroom and converted it into an office for the math teachers to hang out and work in.  We then go out into shared classrooms to teach every period.  The classrooms are shared and don’t belong to any one teacher.

I was a bit leary about this idea at first.  I try extremely hard to get as much work done as possible in during the day and didn’t know if sharing an office with 7 other math teachers would be very productive.  I also love my classroom!  I have lamps, and supplies for my students and a giant old school boom box where I can play tunes while they work.

However, it turns out that I LOVE being in the math office.  We have these super cool desks that we designed in two “islands” of three teachers each.  I am sitting in the back so I can’t see the door.  I requested that location so I could get more work done – turns out I’m too social.  Bonus is that I’m next to our “micro-mini” kitchen!  My island is named “Camp Frock N Bach” as it contains Julia Finneyfrock (who just started writing a blog!), and Russ Campbell.  I love them both so we are having a blast!  Julia also posted about our awesome office (and even better pics) so go read her post too!

Students come in occasionally for help, but it really feels like an “adult” space.  I left teaching for a couple of years to work in business and it really feels like an office!  We have a lunch table in the back, a small refrigerator, coffee maker and microwave.  We share ideas and talk math frequently.  We are even going to start making crock-pot lunches on Wednesdays.  It’s actually been a blast because I feel like I have adult time, which can be rare when you are teaching all day.

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First Day with Make It Stick, Jo Boaler, and Plickers

I want students to be less stressed before math tests.  I do not want them cramming the day before, asking me how to do every review problem because they have already forgotten, then asking me for more review problems to work.  I want students to connect the ideas not only of the current unit, but of the previous math ideas that are also incorporated into the current material.  I would love if students saw math as connected ideas, rather than “a long list of procedures” to be memorized.  I want students to learn conceptually, not procedurally.

This is tough to accomplish, as many of their math classes have been taught procedurally.  I used to think that they would be so happy to have me as their teacher!  I throw the rules of math class out of the window, and help them discover concepts on their own!  However, I found last year that this was not the case with many of my students.  Many were uncomfortable with the fact that I was disrupting their flow.  These honors math students have been successful for many, many years learning the formulas and practicing, practicing, practicing until it was perfect.  And their grade was perfect.  They didn’t want to struggle to “discover the formula”.  Struggling and not knowing make them feel insecure.  Instead, they wanted the formula right away – so they could have more time to learn it, practice it, and get a jump start on tonight’s homework!  They did not want me wasting their time.  I kept telling them this was not the best way, but they did not believe me.  So instead of telling them this year, I am going to have them read the research for themselves.

For the first day this year, the students will enter the room and then write their thoughts to these questions. (questions are a work in progress)

  1. What is math?
  2. Finish these sentences:
    1. The people that are the best math students….
    2. The best way to learn a new math concept is to…
  3. How do you study for a math test?

I will then give them a Plickers survey to find out their thoughts on math as a class. I use Plickers the first day because a few students will not have their technology ready. Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 8.46.54 AM

We will briefly discuss their answers and then I am going to show them this four minute video by Jo Boaler.

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I need to ask them to write after seeing this video.  I’m still working on that and would love any thoughts or suggestions.

For homework, I am going to have them read excerpts from Make It Stick, The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown.

This fabulous book talks about how people learn, and what you can do to make learning stick.  It is full of real life examples and specific strategies.  The ideas and strategies are summarized in one of the last chapters of the book.  After having them write and discuss how they think they learn best, I am going to have my students read some excerpts of this chapter, then discuss it as a class.  This should benefit them not only in math class, but in most of their other classes as well.

The next day in class, students will pick out what they felt was the most important ideas from the reading and share them.  From this, they will decide on a learning goal for the year.  I then had them fill out  a Google Form to record their “one thing” they wanted to try from “Make It Stick”.

Stick

I will keep doing discovery and conceptual learning in my classes.  I am also replacing “massed practice” with interleaving practice and lagging homework this year.  I am hopeful that having knowledge about how people learn will open their minds to this new style of homework.  Winning over their mindset is half the battle!

This is all still a work in progress!  And if you want to join in on the planning, I’d love to have you!  I will also be talking about my first day plan at the Global Math Department Webinar this Tuesday evening at 9pm EST.  Please join in the conversation!  I hope to have it more polished by then, as I start school August 17th!

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Julie Reulbach

The Files:

The amazing Meg Craig made a booklet foldable that is the entire activity in one!    I love collaboration!  (I pretty much copied hers for my one sheet).  🙂
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