Thursday, October 4, 2012

PARODY: How Children Construct Meaning in the Math Classroom

kids editing 3D models on the interactive whit...
Students editing 3D models on the interactive whiteboards (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Jane Thursday

In my classroom, students construct their own learning. We as teachers should stop teaching, so that our students can learn.

I once taught school in a school that required me to use a pacing guide to ensure that the students are learning all of the required objectives. I'm glad those days are over!

When the kids decide what they are going to learn, there's no practical way to set a pace.

I often just don't feel like teaching.I go into the classroom, sit at my desk, and put my head down. On these days the students know that they are constructors of their own learning. This is also known as project-based learning.

Just last week my students used project time to launch sharpened pencils at the cork board. One kid got the idea to launch the pencils with rubber bands. It didn't work, and he actually ended up hurting himself. It was all in the spirit of constructing meaning though, so no harm no foul.

In an open classroom like mine, there are no boundaries. Well, I do tell the kids that the windows in the classroom are boundaries, especially since we had that unfortunate incident last year.

We've got a new principal. He's really smart. Unlike the last principal who was fired immediately for referring to instructional practices at the school as "touchy feely hippie do do." The new principal is so positive and so full of encouragement! He will tell you straight out, "I don't know your content."

He's into reflective listening, meaning that he listens to what he hears and then repeats it in a different way. All the time! It's awesome that anything I say - no matter what - he'll repeat it in different terms. Sometimes we speak like a pirate just to hear him retell pirate-speak in his own words.

The most important thing about teaching math is to never, ever tell kids the correct answer. They need to arrive at the correct answers themselves. This is especially true in the area of multiplication.

I'm proud to say that every child at my school goes home with a blue ribbon in our annual multiplication table contest. That's because no answer is considered more correct than another answer. I mean you don't see nuclear chemists get all upset about correct proportions, now do you?

We don't give grades either. Grades might make some children feel more successful than others, thus setting them up for failure. Instead we give students sticky notes in different colors. We don't tell the kids what the colors mean. We just let them guess.

It's great to read the kids' journal entries on their progress in my class. They are so full of questions! "What are we supposed to be doing in here?" "When are we going to use numbers?" "Is this really a math class?" It is through questions like these that kids begin to apply what they get from my class to the real world. I often tell the kids that in real life there may not be actual numbers!

My students take the state's standardized test at the end of each year. Last year, I spent a lot of time preparing them to take the test. Gotta get those test scores up! In order to really make our constructivist instructional methods pay off, I allowed the kids to color the bubbles in on the multiple choice questions with crayons and markers. The girls especially wanted to use glitter, and the boys gravitated toward the scissors.

That just goes to show you that every child is unique. Besides, far be it from me to interfere with the natural learning processes of the young mind, right? We don't have the test results back yet from the state, but they must have been pretty good because the state's Department of Education sent an officer down from the State Bureau of Investigation.

It was weird at first, but I know he was impressed because he was feverishly taking notes while observing my class. I'm just glad my excellent teaching practices are finally getting the recognition they deserve!

About the author

Jane Thursday is a freelance writer, a mother of two young children, and an elementary school principal. She holds a doctorate in educational leadership, a master's degree in school administration, and 6-12 English Language Arts teaching licensure. She has studied public education in the United States, South Africa, the Philippines, and England.

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