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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Thoughts for Teacher Tuesday

What is the Best Way to Teach?

As I start back to school after 15 days off, I can't help but return to the age old question, "what is the best and most effective way to teach?" So far this school year I have been bombarded with several theories and ideas each one vastly different from the previous. 

 Write Math

One focus at the IRA conference last spring was the concept of  Write Math. This was/is a concept I can really sink my teeth into. It just clicked and made sense even for an English teacher like me. The basic premise is to teach students how to problem solve not simply solve a problem. Give them real life problems and have them verbalize what steps they would take to solve the problem and why. Considering this is what real life is all about, I found this to be a great way to prepare our students for the future. Of course, I have tried "selling" this concept to many math teachers since last spring, and I still don't have any buyers. The biggest obstacle standing in the way of such a shift - standardized tests. It seems teachers are so focused on preparing students for the test, that they don't want to try anything new. I don't fault them as this has been the focus in education. However, I did find an excellent TEDtalk to support the concept of teaching students how to problem solve. It is four years old, but it definitely speaks to the idea of preparing students for real life. Math Makeover

More Technology

I recently attended the MN TIES conference. As one could assume by the title, the entire conference revolves around technology in education. I was bombarded with the latest and greatest tools, gizmos, and apps to make learning more applicable, differentiated, personalized, and fun. There were sessions on gamification, one on one, and the ever so popular flip classroom. I even attended a six hour seminar on how to create a more innovative school. Although I walked away with a great deal of neat new ideas to try in my classroom, I didn't walk away with a great deal of research, statistics, or data to prove that all of this technology is the answer to producing smarter, more motivated, and better prepared students. If anyone has any, please share. 

Less Technology More Rigor

This fall I had the opportunity to read Amanda Ripley's book The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way. If you haven't had the chance to read it, I highly recommend it. Amanda follows exchange students into the new academic powerhouses of the world: Finland, Poland, and South Korea. She explores what they are doing that works and how it compares to education in the United States. The key concept or idea that I walked away with after reading this book is that in order to make a change in education, you need to make a change in your culture. Everyone needs to buy into the value, rigor, and expectations of the education system in order for a country to succeed. This book challenged my ideas of education in several ways. First, she points out how the United States spends more money on technology in education than any other country, yet continues to fall behind. Standards for teachers and students were higher in all three of the countries studied. Smaller class sizes were not one of the top reasons for success and few, if any, of these schools had extracurricular activities as part of their education systems. 

My Classroom

Personally, my students will be starting the research unit this week. In the name of action research, I am trying something new this year. I have provided my students with six different alternatives to the standard research paper including videos, websites, adventure essays, interactive timelines, newscasts, and Isearch papers. I am excited to see what they produce and if these alternatives better accomplish the objectives of the unit. I will keep you posted. 

I would be interested to hear what others think is the solution to an every growing problem in our country's education system. 

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