I teach Calculus this year to this really great group of kids. It’s a very small class, only 9 students, and they are so eager to learn and work really hard.
They have their mid-year exams this week, so I know most of them spent a good part of the weekend preparing for it. When my students came in today, a group of three girls in the front had these big grins on their faces. One of them said, “Guess what we figured out this weekend?” She seemed very excited.
“What did you guys figure out?”
“Well, we were studying yesterday, and we figured out that if you take the integral of the circumference formula, you get the formula for area of a circle – and that makes sense because the integral gives you the area under the curve.”
“Are you serious?” I said it with all the amazement I could, and I have to say, I was thrilled.
Another of these girls wondered why we don’t teach these formulas this way. I explained that the idea of the integral is a big concept for a sixth or seventh grader, and that’s probably the reason. I also reminded them, especially the students I had last year, that sometimes they ask me about why we are doing something or what it connects to, and I find myself giving vague explanations and promising them that it does connect to something they will see. I ask them to trust me, and usually they do.
I also pointed out that, if I had told them this a long time ago, they never would have had that moment of making that connection on their own. I would never want to take that away from them. I remember these moments myself, as a student, when I would make these kinds of connections. It made me feel pretty brilliant, I must admit. The fact that these students made this connection to something they learned a long time ago was only beat out by the fact that they were so excited that they made this connection on their own. What more could a teacher ask for?
I recently read a post on the site “Good” about a school in the U.K. where a teacher organized what he called an “Innovation Day.” Students were given a full school day to work on any project of their choice – the only real requirement was that they needed to present their project at the end of the day. Students worked on a variety of projects, “…they made everything from art related projects like album covers and Manga to more tech oriented projects like a remote control car and rockets.”
The full post from “Good” can be found here: http://www.good.is/posts/why-every-school-needs-an-innovation-day/
“Good” links to a post on the Guardian’s site by the teacher who ran the project which can be found here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2012/jun/14/freedom-teaching-learning
Matthew Bebbington, the teacher who came up with the project, says he got the idea from something Google does – the give their employees free time to work on anything they want, and apparently, this is where the idea of gmail came from. I didn’t know this, but 3M does this as well, and this is how the idea for the Post-it note was born. Pretty amazing!
The students involved in this experiment were ages 11-15. Bebbington reports that students worked steadily throughout the day, were fully engaged, and collaborated well with each other. He credits this to the fact that students designed their own learning. They had the freedom to try things, and even to fail, since their projects were not graded. Since they had to present this projects, students were motivated to create something really great.
Bebbington advocates that this be something schools do once a week. However, he does acknowledge that, with the amount of curriculum a teacher needs to cover, this would be very difficult.
Although doing exactly this would be difficult, this does make me think about how I could work in something like this. Could I allow students to design their own projects at the end of a unit? What would they come up with if I gave them the freedom to find some authentic way for demonstrating the skills they learned?
I watched a video today that made me think about how I teach problem solving to my students. It was a TED talk with a math teacher named Dan Meyer. In this video, Dan talks about the kind of students we want to create. We want students to be good problem solvers, and we want them to be able to solve not only the kind of problems they might see in a book, but also the kind of problems they might actually encounter in real life.
When I go into school tomorrow, I plan on teaching my Pre-Cal students about solving trig word problems, and I am thinking about how I might re-work the way I present these problems in a way this fits more with what Dan was saying in this video.
You should take a minute to watch it, it’s really very interesting.
Math Class Needs a Makeover