My question

A few weeks ago I couldn’t sleep because I had a cup of coffee the day before, so I watched the CMCNorth Keynote from Dan Meyer, Shira Helft, Juana de Anda and Fawn Nguyen. Their main call to action was: What is your question that keeps you working in education? What are you striving to be an expert at?

At 4 am, I didn’t have a great answer or immediate answer, but later it wasn’t just in the early hours of the morning – I didn’t have a guiding question for my growth this year. My first years in the classroom, most of my questions were about the day to day functionality of the work, but now I’ve passed that as a measurement of growth. I’ve selected goals that seem important (increasing engagement and closure in lessons) but I couldn’t tell you why those fit into a bigger picture of my work. I flipped my classroom with a purpose of having more time in class…but what would that time be used for? I didn’t have a clear answer.

In part, I’ve been looking for quick success like I’ve had before, but these goals don’t yield quick changes in my classroom – and I hadn’t realized that until after a conversation with our CEO/superintendent. Flipping my class is a long term solution and shift  – but I need something more immediate to push myself forward.

Still, even after I realized what I was working on was more ambitious than a 6 to 12 month time frame, I hadn’t figured out my question. I thought about listing all of the ones in my head, but that didn’t happen during finals week. This week on my time off I met up with an old friend and through our conversation about student performance I saw on exams I realized the question I’ve been unconsciously thinking of and working towards:

How do students best communicate their knowledge with others?

In the past, I’ve focused on this a little and I feel like it is important to me – I keep coming back to variations of it every year but don’t make great gains. It is also something I don’t see a simple MTBoS search finding strong solutions to. I don’t see represented in student work I ask for or receive when I clearly ask for it. A piece of paper with an equation solved and answer boxed isn’t useful outside of my room, but I get it all too often. I had my seniors write short essays as part of their final…and most showed a lack of understanding of non-fiction writing. I ask students what they are thinking or why and they cannot share that with me – out loud or in writing. The crux of my question is based in Math Practice 3 (Critiquing the reasoning of others), but it goes beyond that to not only arguments but thinking and knowledge as well.

I think this encompasses all my “baby goals” of the past. I flip my classroom to give students more time with me – so I need to use that time to work on these skills. I want to use closure activities that share what they know with me and others – and have the benefit of improving student learning. I want a cognitive busy classroom that includes creating arguments – in a variety of ways so all students are show the progress they have made. (I think this question also dabbles into adapting work for students with disabilities – how would be best for those students to communicate what they know with me and others?)

I want the answer to the infamous “When am I going to use this?” to not necessarily be answered by an application of math content, but instead by the importance of communication skills that are clearly transferable without doing mental gymnastics.

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