By Sarah Hampton
On the personality spectrum, I tend to be what people colloquially refer to as “Type A.” In my experience, the majority of teachers tend toward this personality predisposition. It can be very beneficial in teaching, but it can also be detrimental if we allow our own tendencies and preferences to become the measuring stick for student performance instead of objective criteria. Type A personalities may dominate the teaching profession, but our students are all over the spectrum, and just because they may do things differently, their strategies are not necessarily inferior.
Reminding myself to differentiate between subjective preference and objective quality has helped me value multiple student strategies in everything from keeping up with homework assignments to designing science experiments. We are individuals. One size almost never fits all. When we give students permission to get out of the box of a one-size-fits-all mentality, they can each confidently bring a different perspective to the table. Sometimes, everyone’s method is equally valuable; sometimes, one emerges as more effective or efficient. Learning to collaborate, defend ideas, and evaluate the reasoning of self and others is extremely valuable in the classroom and beyond, and we can intentionally develop these skills by restructuring our classrooms away from a culture in which the instructor hands the “correct” strategy down to the students toward a culture in which students are actively engaged in strategy design and evaluation.
Kara Suzuka, Tim Boerst, and Aileen Kennison from the University of Michigan understand this, and they have designed excellent research-based professional development for elementary school math teachers to promote this line of reasoning. I recently discovered their work when browsing the 2017 Stem For All Video Showcase sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The team highlights key differences between being able to do elementary level math and being able to teach math at the elementary level. One of these important differences is recognizing and encouraging multiple student strategies. Their work supports what I have observed while tutoring and teaching math over 15 years.
When I first started tutoring, I would basically teach students to replicate the process that I used to answer the question. In other words, I tried to put the students in my box. However, I noticed that, even when the students could use my procedure to arrive at a correct answer, they really didn’t understand what they were doing or why they were doing it. In other words, it wasn’t building number sense. Even more unfortunately, I was also inadvertently communicating to the students that there is only one correct way to do math, and that way must be affirmed by me, the instructor. When students repeatedly learn math that way, it is hard to convince them of the truth--there are multiple, valid algorithms for solving problems that students themselves should be able to create, verbalize, defend, and assess for efficiency. Now, I seek to recognize the value in each student method, allow them to present their thinking, and let them prove whether or not it will work every time. In other words, I give them permission to get out of the box. This better style of instruction satisfies every single one of the Mathematics Teaching Practices recommended by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics:
I love knowing there are people like Kara, Tim, and Aileen who are working to shift the paradigm of mathematics instruction away from replicating processes to supporting individual student strategies. We can't teach students every process for every problem type they will ever encounter. But we can teach students to think, create, and evaluate their own processes. Kudos to the team at the University of Michigan for recognizing the need to teach outside of the box and for offering a promising solution. I look forward to reading the final results of their research.
By Judi Fusco
I just watched this video about mathematics educators and Makers. If you're interested in either topic, I suggest stopping by the STEM for all Video Showcase and watching. The videos from the video showcase will be available after the showcase ends, but right now you can participate in the ongoing discussions and give feedback. You can also VOTE for your favorite!
There's a lot over there so you may feel like a kid in a candy store. I'll share some of the others I have watched and enjoyed. If you tweet, take a look at the twitter hashtag for the showcase to see what others are saying.
There seems to be something for EVERYONE in the Showcase. There is EarSketch: teaching coding through music. As I watched it, I became very interested because it has curriculum aligned with AP Computer Science test, and it seems to be inspiring to students. If kids are inspired they often go further than is required of them and it makes their learning fun.
I spent some more time watching videos and I want to go to the K12 Engineering Scholars Program! It looks like such a great experience! I would love to see these in other states!
I also watched the TechFit Video as I think keeping our kids active is very important. I love what I saw in the project!
And finally, number five (the first video is linked in the first line of the post) is the EcoXPT video -- it's a virtual environment for students to learn about field research in biology. It seems like it would give great experiences and help students learn.
I tried to share a diverse set of videos in this post to show how much ground the STEM for All Video Showcase covers. I hope you'll take some time to explore and watch!
By Judi Fusco
Cyberlearning 2017 was an inspiring event in April. You can see a storify (a record of the tweets during the meeting) that documents many of the topics and technologies presented. In this post, I'm going to share a little about the 4 keynotes and give you the links so you can watch them.
The four keynotes kicked off with a future thinking one about virtual reality (VR) by Jeremy Bailenson. The VR discussed in this keynote isn't ready for the classroom yet, but we'll have new technologies soon that will be classroom ready. The keynote by Jeremy Bailenson describes his work and helps us think about what we need to investigate to understand about learning and VR. Cyberlearning researchers and teachers need to be thinking and planning now for the future. (We'll do a post soon about VR that is in the classroom.)
The second keynote by Mary Helen Immordino Yang focused on the link between emotions and learning and what we know from neuroscience. Most of the good teachers I know intuitively understand how important the emotional connection is in the learning process, but the keynote talk helps us understand reasons why emotion and cognition are so intertwined and has helped me think. I will share more in another post.
The third keynote talk by Eileen Scanlon was on the challenges of creating and sustaining a meaningful program of research. Eileen does research on Citizen Science; you can learn more about it in a CIRCL Primer on Citizen Science.
The final keynote, given by Karthik Ramani, discussed computational fabrication as a way to engage students and help them learn. He is also creating new technologies and interfaces to technologies. He describes his work and lab. His students showed off cardboard robots! In the photo on the right, one of the CIRCL Educators checks out the robots.
I highly recommend watching each of the four keynote videos at some point. Each keynote is one-half hour and if you watch, leave a comment and tell us what you think and if you see any implications for your practice. You can read reflections on the meeting by Jeremy Roschelle, one of the co-chairs of the conference.