VWQ: I just want to say I LOVED being in your class today. Such good things happening. I especially loved helping the students who had to count the number of people in a newspaper and then count how many of those were people of colour and then write the fraction/ ratio to describe people of colour to total people in the newspaper. Also with women. Way to slip in the Social Justice. ;)
VT: Thanks, it was a pleasure to have you in -- I always like to have visitors in my room because it forces me to re-examine my teaching, and think about my instructional choices. (Not to mention, an extra adult in the room to interact with students is always a nice resource!)
Yes, I am always trying to find ways to sneak in Social Justice. Some units lend themselves better to it than others... Data Management provided an excellent platform, for example. Sometimes people think that only LASS teachers can address issues of social justice and human rights in an authentic way. One of my goals this year was to find authentic ways to embed equity issues into the math curriculum. I'm still working on it!
VWQ: I was hoping I could ask a few more questions about the math Centres...
VT: I typically find there is so much to do that most students don't finish all the centers, even the more "advanced" ones. I really try into include tasks with multiple entry points so that ALL students can be kept busy and can engage with the math at a level that will move their learning forward. That being said, I do have one center that allows students who are done early to investigate a challenge of their choice. The idea is that they can choose a related math topic of interest, and find out more about it. I've had some interesting results with this center so far... a small group of students put together a presentation on a famous mathematician for the rest of the class, and I had another student design a math game. One student used that center just to teach himself a concept beyond the grade level curriculum once he had demonstrated the other success criteria. I find that when you teach students to believe in themselves as learners, they come up with some pretty amazing stuff on their own!! :)
VWQ: And what do you do with students who are very behind and are still not "getting" it? I liked your lesson that I got to sit in on and how you explained the fraction in several ways to a small group of students. I think that one student will eventually get there with more practice.
VT: Yes, I am glad you got to see that! One of the things that excites me about teaching through a centers-based approach in math is that I can work with some of the more "needy" students. I remember noticing this when I taught Grade 3: There were already so many gaps for some students. It's even more pronounced by Grade 7. Some students never got it early on, and then things started moving more and more rapidly in math class, and they just fell further and further behind.
By taking a centers-based approach to some of my math units, I can have students all working at various learning activities while I meet with individual or small groups of students to work on specific areas of need. For example, when you saw me working with that small group of students the other day, I had noticed from their performance on a little quiz we did that they were not all that familiar with turning fractions into decimals, so I just pulled those three aside to teach them that specifically. After that mini-lesson, one student had it no problem and was ready to move on, another needed to just consolidate with some practice questions from the text, and the third one will definitely need a few more meetings with me at the round table! :)
But this approach lets me know where each student is exactly. In a larger class lesson, I feel like I am able to sort of monitor the general sense of where the class is at with a concept, but am not always able to effectively get a handle on each individual student's progress.
VWQ: Does this format work for most of your students? What do you do with students who are constantly acting out? What about students who "slip through the cracks" and don't do the work?
VT: Interesting question! Well, as this is a new way of doing business for me, too, this year has been a learning year. I am still refining the process -- for example those learning passports you saw, where the students have to track their progress through the centers, are a new "invention" of mine. I am hoping that they will provide the accountability some students seem to need in order to stay on track. They'll also offer a way to document progress for families who seem to want to see a lot of paper. Students have to share their passport at least once with families, who have to offer feedback to show they've seen it. So I'm hoping that will motivate some of the little friends to do their best work, since they will have to explain it to Mom or Dad or Grandma or whoever's at home, lol!
Of the six classes I teach this year, I see three of them quite regularly for math, and am taking this approach with them. Two of the classes are really thriving under this approach, while the third has been a bit resistant. I'm still trying to figure out why that is, whether they feel like it just seems too easy or babyish for intermediate, or whether they don't like the self-directed approach... my intent with this was to foster independent learning skills in students, but I assumed a certain foundation of self sufficiency that it turned out some of my classes didn't already have, so I had to backtrack a bit and teach some of the learning skills more directly first, which can seem like a real time-waster to some students, but which is necessary to the success of the program.
For students who still struggle, I just have them do self-directed work out of the textbook: I tell them exactly which chapters they need to work on, and they have to both record their work, and also track progress in an alternative format passport. Then I check in with them periodically to assess their understanding of various concepts. This is sort of a new thing I've been trying with a few students, and so far it seems to be working well.
VWQ: I liked your Assessment Tracking Form , passport and criteria check-in/homework page. I will take copies of ANYTHING you want to give me and I will treasure and use these things. :)
VT: Thanks; I'm glad you found these useful. Most of them are here -- just email me if you want anything not posted.
VWQ: You said that you rotate the centres for about 4 weeks? Do they change with every new unit or do they change within a unit? How long typically does it take for a student to complete all of the centres (if they do)?
VT: Centers remain intact for a whole unit. There are plenty of activities to keep everyone busy. The main idea of the centers stays the same for each unit, I just customize the learning activities to meet the learning goals and success criteria for each unit (these are based on the grade level curriculum expectations, but reworded in kid-friendly language).
Right now I am teaching an average of 40-50% of my program through centers. I think three-part lessons/bansho/math congress and other variants of whole-class, problem-based teaching/learning are valuable, and I want to keep doing some of these things. My eventual goal wuld be to teach about 70% of my program through a centers-based approach. It takes a TONNE of time, though, to set up a unit -- my most recent unit, fractions, decimals and percents, took me about 40 hours to put together, and that was with some input already from our instructional coach. So you can imagine that it's just an impossible task to do that for every single unit. I'm lucky this year because I do have some release time for this as it is part of a ministry project I am working on, but even so, there have been many nights each week when I am burning the midnight oil after the kids are in bed.... I'm kind of hoping that next year will be a little easier, since I will have the framework all worked out, and can even put together some of my "new" units during the summer. (Last summer it was all just a conceptual idea without a concrete classroom to try it out on, lol!)
VWQ: Do you always have technology in the classroom? are they always set up at the same centres? How does that work and how did you manage to get this technology for your class alone? :)
VT: Yes, one of my goals when I wrote the project proposal was to get at least four devices for exclusive use in my classroom, since BYOD isn't really happening in some of my classes with higher socio-economic needs. I ended up with enough funding for two devices, but managed to secure a few other through various nefarious means. Some of them actually don't work all that well, so currently I have one iPad mini and two laptops that work well, and three other laptops that are on their last legs. But even in my "slimmer" BYOD classes, that means I can have one device per group, which is nice.
One of the things I learned about at a workshop I went to last summer was the Math Clips resource online. It's a series of self-directed learning activities for students in some of the ministry-determined math GANs. Each "clip" includes several "clusters" of activities and a "show what you know" assessment at the end, so that is one of my centers. I try to allot two devices to that center, so with two kids per device, that means at least four students each class can work on Math Clips, which is a grounded-in-research program.
Clips doesn't cover ALL the expectations, obviously, so my "Center 3" is just a technology center. For the units that don't have Clips activities, I try to select a relevant video or website. For example during our last geometry unit, students had to watch a video illustrating Pythagorean theorem, and complete a follow-up activity.
I'm also encouraging those students who want to to document their work on their own device, if they have one, rather than a notebook, which can get old and ratty and lost. So far I've been really impressed at the students who do it: They use different apps, but all of them include photos, so for example if they have been exploring fractions with cuisinaire rods, colour tiles and pattern blocks or tangrams, they can take a photo of their three models, label it on their device, and store it in an electronic folder. Then when they conference with me, they just pull up their folder and we can look at and discuss their work together. Think about the real-life skills they are developing for organizing and presenting their work!!
I would so love to get some generous donor to buy me a class set of iPads, lol!
Another bit of technology I am trying to integrate is Kahoot -- I love how engaged the students are with it; it's a nice way to build in friendly competition once in a while without making the time stress a regular part of the program.
Next year I want to use Edmodo or some other program to manage my classes. One thing I am struggling with this year is the whole rotary system -- although I've taught intermediate before and loved it, I always had my own class (and taught them everything) rather than several classes for one or two subjects. So I kind of feel like I didn't start this year effectively in terms of communicating my philosophy and policies to families. I called two full classes of parents to introduce myself back in September, but as I am sure you can imagine, making 120 phone calls is just an impossible task -- as it was, I was already coming home waaay too late every night from work. So many of the families in those classes I didn't call felt a little out of the loop, I think. Some of our colleagues use Edmodo or a Myclass site, and I know parents do check online to see what's happening. So that's my goal this summer, to explore how I can use technology to more effectively communicate with families next year!!!
VWQ: Again, I LOVED my time in your class and I would love to come in again to see another class or a different subject. Do you do the same thing for Science? If yes, I would DIE to see that!!!
VT: Thanks, you are welcome to come back anytime. Not every class runs as smoothly as the one you saw, lol! And no, Science is a whole other story... not my forte, and I definitely am not doing it justice this year, though I did try to do a few more labs during this past unit with the Grade 7s. But there just aren't enough hours in a day!!! Someone told me recently they didn't need more planning time and they didn't know why the union was fighting for that. I was laughing inside, thinking you can't give me ENOUGH planning time! I am always looking for ways to improve my work, and I feel like I am always scrambling with never enough time to do my job effectively, even after nearly two decades in this gig!