I last taught in the classroom in 2014. From about 2010, I had developed a rather strong series of opinions of homework. The condensed version of those opinions would have sounded like this…
Homework exacerbates disparities in environmental effects of the student home life on student achievement
Homework needs to be used for re-inforcement only, not for exploration.
I can get a lot more out of my students in class as a learning community by using homework as a bargaining chip (and mostly being willing to eliminate it)
Homework absolutely shouldn’t be graded in any way.
You get the idea. The result was math classes that included almost no homework at all (which the students enjoyed, and then they liked coming to math class more, and I was able to take advantage of that, so they learned a lot…) If you have questions about where those thoughts can from, I’m happy to explain my 8-10 years ago thoughts to you. I still stand by a lot of them right now.
But, what happened this spring raised questions in my mind. Like, how prepared would my students have been for the Covid shut down? Was I simply avoiding an opportunity to help my high school students be better prepared to learn outside of my classroom? Should I have been doing more to help them engage learning more flexibly?
I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I observed Covid turn the entire school system into non-stop homework for weeks this spring (it happened in my home, too.) “Being good at doing homework” is just a series of skills and habits that need to be practiced (like anything else) and students who had 2013 Andrew would have had very little practice doing Geometry at home because I made the conscious decision to make sure they didn’t.
Maybe I was doing it wrong (wouldn’t be the first time). Maybe I wasn’t, but what I was doing worked in 2013 and now it’s Covid2020 and things are different. Possible.
Anyway, for Fall 2020, it seems to me that preparing students and families for the need for the students to have meaningful learning experiences away from school needs to be taken seriously.
The last post I made included a few of my thoughts presented in video form.
Here’s “part II” of those thoughts, which are less about how we might onboard students to prepare for digital teaching-and-learning and more about supporting the students’ needs for learning at home.
Now as you watch those, it’s fair to ask the question, “yeah but the students are simply going to watch an instructional video for a single skill, right?” And from a student learning perspective from the side of the CONSUMER, that’s likely true. And when you go to Next Vista’s website, you’ll see that it’s fairly simple to find videos, but it’s also that there’s lots of opportunities to submit videos. That’s where this conversation turns. When you see this from the side of the CREATOR, you get a whole different view.
Rushton Hurley (the founder of Next Vista for Learning) has a line I’ve heard him use a couple of time: “When your students know their classmates and community will see their work, they want it to be good. When they know their teacher will be the only one who sees it, they want it to be good enough.” And I think that platforms like Next Vista can provide the space for students to invest their time and effort into learning math to the level needed to record videos that can help others learn the math that deeply, too.
That’s something we’ve learned as math teachers. When you don’t know what you are talking about, that becomes a problem when you are trying to instruct someone else on that topic. By exploring creative outputs for our math learner, we are operationalizing that same truth. In order to create effectively to support learning, you have to have deep knowledge of the content yourself.
And the prospect of deep math knowledge for our students is enough to get my attention.
What could we do if we gave the students more control over how they presented their learning to us?
A simple Google search for some random geometry topic… let’s choose angle pairs… reveals a whole collection of visual images meant to serve as posters, visuals, flash cards, etc.
And most of them are really, really boring. Our students could do better than that. But they might need a tool to do it. Here’s two.
What I love about these two tool is that they are really, really easy to use. Free to get started (and, quite frankly, perfectly satisfactory without leaving the free version) and easy to share.
Now, you might be asking, “why would we want our students to spend time making this stuff?” Fair question.
Remember, to make something helpful to others, they need to learn it themselves. And for some students, being able to make something awesome-looking can help to add some motivational value to some bits of content that are difficult to jazz up. (Angle pairs, for example.)
Thinking of something like this…
And, of course, it won’t work for all students. So, you can keep the quiz handy for the students who would prefer to show you what they’ve learned that way.
I’m currently reading How Dante Can Save Your Life by Rod Dreher, which is a super compelling read. Great story-telling and wonderful personal insights into struggles that I’ve sort of had, but in a much different way.
From an educator’s standpoint, one quote stood out completely.
Books, even works of fiction, can be do it yourself manuals for people searching for the wisdom to fix their lives. Some of the best self-help books are not shelved in the self-help section. But don’t think that reading is the same thing as doing. When thinking about action as a substitute for taking action, reading is an obstacle to getting better. Reading a recipe and learning it back-to-front is not the same thing as baking a cake. Read certainly. But make sure you take time to contemplate in stillness and prayer (if you pray) what you have read and implement it in your life. The best books offer a window into life and truth, but their lessons only become alive and true for us if we take them into our hearts and by force of will turn them into action. The key is to know when to turn off the analytical mind and when to engage the will. (From about the 3:49:00 mark of the audio book version (sorry. I don’t have the page to reference.)
I suppose this quote resonated with me because from the time I was a young professional I wanted to improve my teaching and there are many books that I’ve read about it. I know many people like me who have used a similar strategy. But I suppose that I need to be reminded that you don’t get better simply by reading. You get better by reading, taking a moment to still your mind and contemplate and pray. Then making a choice and implementing through force of will (as Dreher puts it.) “Force of will” is an important phrase here because there’s always inertia that makes it easier to keep doing what you are doing, even if you know there’s a better way.
But keep reading and keep encouraging your students to do the same. But don’t think that you are naturally improving anything simply by the act of reading. Once you’ve read, what are you going to do next?
Sometimes it can be hard to change the game in math class. Grooves, patterns, predictability… they all have their place, but it can make math class seem stale.
This is where it can be nice to have a off-the-shelf product that completely changes the feel of class. Enter BreakoutEDU. To quote the interviewee from the video above (click the picture) “It bring the breakout room into the classroom.”
You know all of the wonderful patient problem-solving, reasoning, communication and teamwork it takes to bust out of a breakout room? Well, the same thing happens with BreakoutEDU. You hide clues, you lock the box (typically with 4 or 5 locks), you give the students some teammates and a timer and let them go.
I have seen this in classrooms a dozen times or so. Engagement is through the roof. Struggle is often productive and perseverance is challenged. Keep the hints handy. It can be tricky to get the difficulty level of the games right for the your students.
Let me know if you have questions! I’d love to help you get started!