I was recently given the honor of California League of Middle School (CLMS) Educator of the Year for my school. I was asked to give a speech that responds to the following prompt. Transitioning to Common Core State Standards: How do you engage your students and colleagues in changes to the classroom? I was initially underwhelmed with the prompt, but in the end I was pleased with my speech. I hope you enjoy it. Here it is (of course, left off my preamble of thank you’s).
It’s a great time to be a teacher. Why? We are having a Renaissance in education. I started teaching about 10 years ago. I had my overhead projector, my colorful Vis a Vis markers, and, of course, I spent many an hour cleaning those darn transparencies. Over the years, tools entered my classroom to make my life easier: the document camera, the LCD projector, the iPad, and even the Smart Board. But the tools, in themselves, didn’t improve my teaching or the students’ learning. Things don’t do that, ideas do. The common core practices inspired me to question and reflect on how to best help kids discover, think, collaborate, model, and explain their thought process. Coincidently or perhaps not so coincidently, there are additional factors currently impacting my perspective and teaching style: the growth mindset (that mistakes are a necessary part of growing the math brain), the maker movement, STEM initiatives, expanding my expertise through MOOCs, and sharing best practices with the larger teacher community through blogging. It sure is an interesting time.
I’m a math and STEM teacher. As a math teacher, common core gave me some room to go deeper into topics, letting the students learn more authentically, investigating certain ideas, working on projects, sharing out their observations. A popular new practice in many math classrooms, including mine, is number talks. It’s where kids mentally strategize how to work out particular puzzles, patterns, or numeric expressions, such as 21 x 19. It’s amazing the learning that happens during these sessions. Kids are decomposing numbers, rearranging them, putting back together. You hear kids say, “What, you can do that?” Talk about AHAs, they’re rolling in. So how do I engage students in changes to the classroom? I ask them questions that make them think, and then I listen.
As a STEM teacher, it’s fascinating to watch my students connect what they learn in their core classes with hands-on engineering projects. My 8th graders are designing 3d models, printing them out on our 3d printer, building robots to accomplish particular tasks, learning how to code, getting first hand experience with the design cycle, and presenting their creations to their peers and others. They are little engineers! It’s funny, about 10 years ago I left my engineering career to go into teaching, and now my teaching career is going into engineering.
By the way, it’s not just a great learning time for our students, but us teachers are really walking the talk of being lifetime learners. Out of all the confusion and initial frustration with common core, came the best collaboration I’ve experienced as a teacher. Now, practically everyday my cohort of math teachers talk about: what, when, why and how we’re teaching what we’re teaching. It’s so motivating to be surrounded by forward-thinking colleagues who get excited when we discover more effective ways to teach and reach our students.
So yes, I think education is experiencing a Renaissance; a rebirth of ideas, and it’s exciting to be part of the community, shaping it and breathing new life into it. It is a great time to be a teacher!