Ideal Classroom Snapshot (I)

<Insert large number of qualifications and self-deprecations here.>

This is how I am currently thinking about my ideal math classroom.  It is and will always be in draft form.  This is informed by innumerable people, places, and books.  There were two books, however, that nearly caused my head to explode (in a good way) and actually caused me to start writing long rants about education in general and math education in particular.  They are worth mentioning.

The Schools Our Children Deserve by Alfie Kohn

ROLE Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom by Mark Barnes

Below, please find a working draft of my ideal classroom. It obviously doesn’t include all my thoughts but gives a basic picture that hopefully will give a context for what I’m taking about from here on out.

The Space

– Pods of tables for students to work in groups

– Comfortable area for students to sprawl doing independent work

– Bookshelves with references, math games, books, Sudoku, etc.

Primary Work

Students are primarily involved in solving rich problems in groups using whatever methods make sense to them.  Groups are completing problems that are similar enough that groups could learn from the other groups’ methods but not necessarily the exact same.  The problems are purposefully chosen to meet objectives for Algebra, but must be rich and meaningful above all else.

After students have their “rough draft thinking” effectively communicated, they review each others’ work, giving feedback, learning new strategies, and asking questions.  Whole class discussions about various strategies and connections between the strategies would inform group work.  Once feedback has happened, groups revise their work for “final draft publishing,” which could include writing up the problem or creating a video/podcast explaining their work.  There may be more questions/angles from which students attack the problem during this revision stage.

Once the problem has been milked for all the mathematical/reasoning it’s worth, students archive their final draft work.

Secondary Work

Students are secondarily involved in solving challenge problems that they choose from a huge binderful of women … I mean, problems.  They can work on these problems alone or in groups and again can choose their medium for explaining their final work.  Students also archive their final draft work on these problems.  The class goal is some undetermined number of problems solved/student over the course of the year.

Respecting Students as People

Movement is unrestricted (in a live and let live way).  Students may choose their groups, go to the bathroom or take a break when needed.

Grades are unimportant.  We may track student progress on the main Algebra, Problem Solving, and Work Habits objectives, but we do not care about grades.

Homework is minimal – only given when necessary and involving choice as much as possible.

Relationships are key.  The teacher is always noticing and giving feedback to students with the aim of helping them grow as mathematicians and people.  Student opinions are respected — there are several forums for students to voice concerns about the classroom, teacher, etc.

That’s it for now

As time goes on, I will add to this, I’m sure.  For now, what are your questions, concerns, questions, thoughts, reactions?

SL

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7 thoughts on “Ideal Classroom Snapshot (I)

  1. It might be too complex to post here, but I’m curious about what a “rich problem” looks like. I find myself trying to think about it the way I think about text complexity – there are texts that are long, but simple in topic, language, nuance, etc. and therefore often less important for my students to spend time on. Similarly, a complex text may be very short, but rich enough that aspects of it could be discuss and debated. Just trying to think about what a “rich problem” looks like in the math context.

    Also, binders full of . . . . HILARIOUS!

  2. Good question! Some answers.
    0) Some of these I already do as much as possible (relationships, rich problems)
    1) We’re about to start the next unit where the desks will be re-arranged and more of the content-through-rich-problems, feedback, peer editing/learning will happen.
    2) I’ve been slowly, without announcing it, restricting movement less. In the middle of a unit/(near end of) year, it seems possibly confusing to change norms/grading policies held throughout the year. We may try some of it for the next unit.
    3) I need to think more deeply about how to teach the routines/norms assumed in parts of this classroom.

    • I’ve read a lot about having students grade themselves. Also, I imagine at least in the near future, continuing to track student progress on various standards (we do standards-based grading right now). That can be fairly painlessly converted to a letter grade.

  3. sarah (and joy), i am loving this blog, it’s definitely make me think about a lot of stuff that seems to have escaped me this year….i wholeheartedly agree with the “respecting students as people” section. one question to think/ponder: it seems the primary work is most always group-work based, but do you have other ideas/options for the introvert who does better work or learns better on their own (or just the student who’s having a rough day and needs some space)?

    • Goood question that we should keep in mind. In a future post, I will talk about the year-long project I am envisioning. But for everyday work, I do think we should consider what to do about students who like to work alone. Perhaps parallel work?

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