Friday, March 13, 2015

Show me how to teach it differently!

I remember walking into our Instructional Partner's office a few years ago because of my frustration with my algebra classes. My failure rate was climbing and I was teaching algebra just like I always had - and it had worked well in the past! I remember asking her if she knew of a different way to teach algebra. That year I taught the "repeater" Algebra IA class in the Spring and I chose to teach the majority of the class using the sample units we had received at the ACT Quality Core workshop. That was the first time that I had seen a math teacher model some strategic teaching strategies that I had seen in some ARI workshops. I was often frustrated thinking that the strategies worked for other content areas but the majority of them just didn't fit in the math classroom. That Summer I attended my first AMSTI training and decided (although I wasn't completely sold out on all the activities yet) to make the commitment to put my students in groups and keep them in groups for the entire school year. I hated it at first but once I adjusted I doubt that I ever go back!

That next school year I looked for and used several station activities and review activities. I also came across some inquiry/discovery-based activities that I loved. I was constantly scouring the Internet for resources and making copies for my classes. My student engagement improved in that school year. The following Summer I attended year 2 of AMSTI training and the light bulbs started going off. I realized that the "AMSTI activities" were the type of activities that I had been looking for on the Internet. I had always thought of them as activities to do AFTER I had taught the concepts and I didn't think I had time for that. A phrase that one of the trainers kept saying to me was , "Quit thinking like a math teacher. Your students wouldn't do that!"

Through these experiences I have come to realize that for the majority of my teaching career I have taught all my students as if they were all good math students who were going to pursue educational goals that involved upper level math classes. I do have a few students who fit that description...but the majority of them don't. However, I was teaching them all the way I preferred to be taught...but the majority of my students aren't like me. They don't love math and math does not come easy to them.

Fast forward a few months to my implementation of the IMP Meaningful Math Algebra curriculum...almost everything I teach is tied to a context. I am finding that even my students who are not great at math will interact more with the activities because the context makes the problems more accessible to them. They might not be able to just see a "naked math" problem and figure it out but when they have a storyline surrounding it they have a context that helps them to make sense of the math. So now I not only have a curriculum that is discovery/inquiry based- I have a curriculum that also presents the algebra concepts within a context. It may have taken me a few years to find the resources/ways to teach it differently, but I have definitely found it. Now...I just have to learn how to teach using them. I am working on that!

I appreciate all of the people who have helped me to transform my teaching. I don't want to try to name them for fear of leaving someone out.