Google Classroom (classroom.google.com)
It is a great platform for students and teacher to connect virtually. It allows teachers to make announcements, post questions, assign and grade work. Students can access the Classroom page securely with a class code. Some school network platforms have similar functions but aren’t super user-friendly, so many educators are adopting Google Classroom.
Here are a few tips I learned:
Before accessing Google Classroom, be mindful of the email domain that you’re logged into. Currently, there are restrictions on who can join your network. If you log in with a personal account, school domains cannot join your Classroom. Conversely, if you log in with a school account, personal domains cannot join. This is to protect you and your students.
Once you are on the Classroom page, you can create a classroom and will be provided a class code. This is the code you will provide your students. Class code is located in the “Students” tab (see picture). It is recommended that you create a class for each period in order to better organize work and protect individual privacy.
4 Steps to Create and Organize Assignments
Goodbye stacks on stacks of paper, goodbye jam-packed student folders, goodbye filing!! Classroom allows teachers to virtually assign work and grade student submissions. It reduces the amount of papers in the classroom, and automatically organizes things for you. Take a look!
Step 1: Choose “Create Assignment”.
Step 2: Fill in the specifics. The work can be in any popular formats (Google doc, Word, pdf, youtube video, etc.). You can also post the same homework to multiple classes by clicking the drop down menu at the top.
Step 3: Very important! If you upload an attachment in any format, you must select the option for student access. The option can be found by clicking the drop down menu next to the document. This option cannot be changed at the later time.
Step 4: Hit “Assign”, and wait for student submissions to roll in!
Grading with Google Classroom
Step 1: Simply click on the assignment, and it will bring you to the grading page.
Step 2: You will see all student submissions with their names. Classroom highlights if work was submitted late or not submitted at all.
Step 3: Click into the individual assignment and you will see student work.
Step 4: On the top of the page, you can change the total score. For example, I gave Dania 98/100. I typed the score directly next to her name.
If you would like to export the grades into a spreadsheet, you can go to Settings –> Download. Many grading platforms allow you to import grades from a spreadsheet, so that you won’t need to input them manually.
That’s it for now! Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions. I am also certified on many other Google Apps, message me if you would like a post on the other products. If you had success implementing Google Classroom in your class, please share your story below.
]]>I found the project on Buck Institute’s website, an institution breaking grounds on PBL, and made modifications to generate whole class discussions. The project is founded on 8th grade Common Core State Standards (CCSS), but I implemented it in a 7th grade class and had a lot of student success. I would like to share what I did in my classroom, and provide some resources for any educators who may want to implement a version of this in their own classrooms.
Project Pathway
Phase 1) An engaging driving question; Phase 2) Building knowledge and skills to answer the driving question, Phase 3) Develop and critique products and answers, and Phase 4) Student presentations. The project took my class 2.5 block periods to complete everything.
Driving Question
Domino’s does not show prices for individual toppings when you build a pizza. They only show the final price at checkout. In the project, we will use math to figure out how much they are really charging for pizzas.
Building Knowledge and Skills
Students go on Domino’s website first-hand and build their own pizzas. They are to build two different pizzas and answer the Exploration Worksheet. The questions are meant to build on each other, and act as a scaffolding strategy to help students find the mathematical relationship between # of toppings and the cost of pizza. I had 6 student groups, and two groups were responsible for small, medium, and large-sized pizzas each.
Develop and Critique Products
Students are asked to produce a graph, mathematical equation, and word explanation in real-world context. As students make connections between the multiple representations, they were able to find inconsistencies and make adjustments. As the teacher, I went around to each group giving small group instruction on slope and y-intercept. The students were able to retain and apply the information because it had a purpose!
Student Presentations
To put a twist on the traditional “stand in front of the classroom and speak”, I did a gallery walk consisting three rounds. Half the group stayed and presented their posters, while the other half traveled to different posters. In the first round, students traveled to the other group with the same sized pizza. They were able to compare Domino’s pricing model and find inconsistencies even with a pizza of the same size! The other two rounds, they were able to see other students’ research on pizzas of various sizes.
Class and Table Discussions
I ended the project with the whole class discussing slope, y-intercepts, and the equation. A student said thoughtfully, “I noticed the equation is the same, but can be applied in many different ways.” In the end, we learned as a class (including myself!) that the best we can do is to estimate Domino’s prices. The students also talked with their table mates about Domino’s website, business ethics, and how it made them feel as consumers. It is important to provide an opportunity for students to think critically about corporate/social issues after the purposeful application of math!
Peer-to-Peer Feedback
This is the first time I implemented peer-to-peer feedback in the classroom. The students were giving a rubric and asked to evaluate their team members:
The students did popcorn read to understand the different criteria. I had them sit independently from their group mates, and asked them to provide honest feedback. I also emphasized that they will affect each other’s grades. They took the responsibility seriously. The opinion of their group members was honest, consistent, and insightful. I feel that it is healthy to get students to pay closer attention to the opinion of their peers, and divert the dependency on teacher approval.
Have you had success in implementing PBL to provide a genuine opportunity for students to learn new content?
]]>The American education system is broken, and ineffective policy makers are trying to fix it by adding more and more red tape. The intention is to raise the quality of education, but the result is a hurdle of hoops for both students and teachers to jump through. Standardized testing in schools, being the biggest punching bag, continues to meet wide opposition from teachers and parents alike. Being one to experience the American educational bureaucracy, I can say that they are ineffective and a waste of time.
There are so many reasons why standardized testing is the wrong measure of a person’s aptitude and potential. The CSET (California Subject Examinations for Teachers), a series of 3-5 exams that tests a candidate’s content knowledge. Each exam requires 1.5-2 months of study, so it takes about 5-10 months to tackle to finish the entire exam, assuming they pass on the first try (and many candidates don’t). This giant red tape hopes to bar “disqualified” teachers from walking into a classroom.
Does passing the CSET ensure a candidate’s aptitude and potential? Well, CSET’s expectations are very high: a pass is a 73% score. I have always been a good student, but I have never studied as hard as I do now for the CSET. My aptitude in math definitely heightened. But like any other time-pressured tests, it is also a testament to a person’s time management skill, multiple choice answering strategy, understanding what the test makers are looking for, and ability to find good study sources prior to test date. As for a candidate’s potential? I surely hope this is not the purpose of these tests, because 109 (or more) questions on a computer screen cannot begin to evaluate the elements that make for a great teacher.
Most of us can go on about the negative aspects. For all the reasons above and more, I wish the CSET existed in a different format, and not one where you must give your fingerprints before and after a washroom break like a prisoner. However, I have positive takeaways from this arduous journey, and the lessons I learned will make me a better teacher.
CSET has the humbling ability to put teacher candidates in the position of a student. It helps us remember what it was like to learn something for the first time. How frustrating or confusing it can be. We have to appreciate that our students will be seeing the material for the first time, and that the content can be counterintuitive. Their frustration or even disinterest is understandable. We can show them, through our personal experiences, the tricks we used to overcome the learning curve.
The CSET reminded me that knowledge is vast and limitless; there is no possible way to finish digging in the subject field we are about to teach. Some things tested on the CSET will never appear on the state curriculum, which means it is potentially not part of our job. But as I worked through a few esoteric math theorems, I began to appreciate how beautiful and mind-blowing mathematics is. It is our sense of wonder and endless curiosity that will spark our students’ interest. So, if you really love teaching, you should first love learning.
Experiencing first-handedly the dissatisfaction of learning to meet the requirements of a standardized test, I will actively ensure my students will not learn like this. The time pressure on tests encourages fast work over good work. It is absurd as many great successes come from long hours of work that had been tried and revised, whether it is a well-written book, a scientific discovery, or an impactful business project.
Moreover, standardized tests favour questions that can be solved by only one method, so that test takers would arrive at an answer given as a multiple choice, and to eliminate any complaints regarding ambiguity, etc. Quoting Dead Poets Society (probably my favourite movie), John Keating says, “I always thought the idea of education was to learn to think for yourself.” Standardized tests, as are all forms of ineffective assessments, are about learning to think like the test makers.
Red tape, thank you for the humbling but mostly unnecessary experience thus far. The things I learned will prepare myself and my future colleagues to go beyond bandage fixes for American children.
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April 28, 2016 marks the day that my life has forever changed. It is the day I received my official admission letter to UCLA’s Teacher Education Program for a 2-year Master’s degree!!! My heart literally leaped out of my body. I had to read the letter 3 times to really let the news sink in.
To my surprise, UCLA has no collective resources for students to seek help for the CBEST or CSET. As an incoming student, I want to create a hub where students can share advice and study tips with each other, because collective knowledge can really help future teacher candidates navigate through the rocky seas of state exams. I want to set up peer-to-peer resources for those seeking exam help from those who did (and passed!) the exact same tests. But before I even have a remote idea of what it looks like, I want to share my experience, and success, on tackling these hurdles.
CBEST is by far the easiet exam. I studied for less than 2 weeks, and passed with flying colors:
Total Score: 214/240 (Passing Score: 123/240)
Reading: 62/80 (Passing Score: 41/80
Writing: 75/80 (Passing Score: 41/80)
Math: 77/80 (Passing Score: 41/80)
Recommended Resource(s)
CliffsNotes “CBEST Test Prep”, 7th Edition. This is the only resource I used. For each section of the test, it contains explanation, strategy, approach and examples. Best of all, it has 4 practice tests, each with a full-length answer key, step-by-step explanation for math problems, and sample essays in each score level.
When shopping for a test prep book, the most important consideration is whether the level of difficulty of the practice test matches the real exam. You don’t want something too difficult, and definitely not too easy.
CliffNotes Practice Section |
Above/On Par/Below CBEST Difficulty |
Reading |
On par – Below |
Writing |
On par |
Math |
On par – Above |
I found the Reading practice at the same level/slightly easier than the real test, Writing practice on par, and Math practice at the same level/slightly harder than the real test. Overall, if you complete the practice tests, you will have a good idea for the type of exam questions on the CBEST. (Disclaimer: I am usually better at Math than Reading in standardized tests.)
The Princeton Review “Cracking the CBEST”, 3rd Edition, . I also read many good reviews online regarding this prep book, but I did not purchase it.
Study Schedule
I only completed 3 practice tests out of 4 available in the book, and passed the test! For Reading and Writing combined, I devoted 6 days of study for 3-4 hours (18-24 hours):
First Day: Read general info of CBEST, explanation on Reading section and Writing section
Second Day: Practice Test 1, review and analyze
Third Day: Practice Test 2, review and analyze
Fourth Day: Break
Fifth Day: Practice Test 3, review and analyze
Sixth Day (Day before exam): Light review, relax, get a good night sleep
For Math, I devoted 5 days of study for 3-4 hours (15-20 hours):
First Day: Read explanation on Math section
Second – Fifth Day: Same rhythm as above
(Disclaimer: If you need to brush up/re-learn probability, stanine scores, mean/median/mode, etc., then you may need to take a day to review these concepts.)
Test-Taking Strategy
You do not need to complete all sections of the test on the same day! I took advantage of it, as I learned while doing the practice tests that I need a lot more time for the Writing section. I took Reading and Writing one day, and scheduled to do the Math section in 2 weeks. You do have to pay for the exam fee again. As you learn about your pace, your strengths and weaknesses, you will know if you should split up the test to buy more time.
(Updated: I passed Subtest I, II, and III on the first try.)
I had a tough time finding study resources for CSET Math. It is a difficult exam consisting of 3 subtests, so it’s not something straightforward that can be packaged into one prep book. From general experience of writing standardized tests, it’s about finding resources that can push you to the next level. These are the resources that I cannot do without, and would like to share with the teacher-to-be community.
Laura4Math Problem Packets (https://sites.google.com/site/laura4math/cset).
This resource is a godsent. The packets contain over 30 pages of practice problems, most of them modelled after the real CSET exam. Each question has a written solution and a video solution explaining the methods and answers. I counted 19 out of 35 multiple choice questions on the real exam as either very similar or exactly the same as the ones on the packet, even the multiple choice selections were copied and pasted verbatim. Two words, BUY THIS. Each packet is $50 (honestly cheaper than retaking the test).
She does not have a fully developed Calculus (Subtest III) packet yet. Currently, her draft packet is free on the website!
W. Michael Kelley, “The Humongous Book of Algebra Problems”, “The Humongous Book of Geometry Problems”, “The Humongous Book of Calculus Problems”.
Look through Laura’s packets (she has free samples), if they are too difficult for you, then get these books! I finished the Algebra book in 2 weeks (they are humongous, but not un-doable). The books review all important concepts that you will need to know for the CSET, and quite fun to read. They will give you the foundational tools and skills to solve CSET-level problems.
In the same series, Kelley also published “THB of Statistics Problems” and “THB of Trigonometry Problems”, but I am not planning on getting them.
Available on Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, retail price $21.95.
Katheryn Porter, “CSET Mathematics”, 2nd edition.
I recommend this book as a supplementary resource in addition to W. Michael Kelley’s Humongous Book series. The 2 practice tests are very helpful, and I find some questions to be more difficult than the real CSET. The math refresher in the book covers all topics on the test, but the explanation can be dense and tedious to read, and sometimes erroneous.
Available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, retail price starting at $60. However, the MRSP printed on the back of the book says $34.95. I received this book for free by hiring a tutor from LAtutors.
Frank Ayres, “Schaum’s Outline of Calculus”, “Schaum’s Outline of Trigonometry”.
If you need more examples and practice on differential and integral calculus for CSET III, Schaum’s is the way to go. It is highly recommended by numerous CSET prep sources, and has thousands of solved questions and practices. I feel it fills in the gaps of “The Humonguous Book of Calculus”, goes further in-depth, and better prepares for CSET-level problems.
Available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble. Calculus retails at $13.25, and Trigonometry at $10.38.
Google
W. Michael Kelley’s books cover about 85% of each subtest. Number Theory (Subtest I), Probability (Subtest II) will not be in his books. To fill this gap, I have consulted Google and my private tutor alike. What is the Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic? Google. What is the definition of closure property? Google. Definitions and explanations on Wikipedia, Khan Academy, and Paul’s Online Math Notes are just as good as a textbook, and they will become your best friends for free.
Magoosh GRE Free Resources (http://magoosh.com/gre/gre-math/).
I took the GRE last March, and there are overlapping concepts between the GRE and CSET. If you need a reminder on the basics, or wonder if there is a different way to solve a problem, then I highly recommend Magoosh. They have a free Math e-Book online with formulas, arithmetic basics, number properties, GCF and LCM, work rates, etc.
Private Tutor ($70-100 per hour)
The last fitting piece of my puzzle is a weekly tutor session for about an hour. Tutors for CSET are not cheap, they run from $70-100 USD per hour (you may be able to find cheaper with someone who has less experience). I highly recommend LAtutors if you are in the Los Angeles area. I tried tutors from different companies, and LAtutors is by far the most effective. The base price seems higher at first ($100 per hour), but they gave me a free CSET Math prep book by Katheryn Porter (mentioned above) that retails at $60. Plus, my tutor works in between our sessions by typing up notes, sending additional resources, and looking over my practice test results. So when we sit together, we go straight to my pain points, and the full hour is dedicated to improving my weaknesses. I found that other tutors failed to do the background work before coming, and I ended up paying for time that was spent on preparation work (time wasters).
I purchased the tutoring package of 12 hours (they provide different CSET prep books depending on the program you purchase).
I DO NOT recommend CliffsTestPrep “CSET Mathematics”.
Stay clear of this book! It covers only one or two topics in each subtest, and the practice tests are way too easy compared to the CSET. This book will not give you the real picture of the exam; it will guarantee an unpleasant surprise when you are in the exam room.
I hope my suggestions can ease someone else’s journey through the CBEST and CSET Math. If you have tips or advice, please leave a comment and share with the rest! I want to leave you a quote before you start your diligent studies:
via NBC.com
]]>In a controlled study group of 51 students in Grades 6-8, only 3 students achieved at their grade level. Taking a closer look, most of the students did not advance beyond Grade 4 level questions — the year we introduce multiplication in their curriculum. Coincidence? I think not. Here are some math hacks to help students build stronger skills.
Strategy 1: Memorize the Times-Table
You frowned at the word, didn’t you? Our advances in education have been moving towards stimulating creativity and abandoning traditional classroom approaches, and definitely moving away from memorization. Then, why am I recommending this strategy?
When we learn and retain information, we are able to reproduce basic knowledge from memory. We don’t really need to think anymore when asked “1 + 1” or “the alphabet”. The times-table is the alphabet in math. It is the building block of equations; it fuses coefficients and variables, and helps us “find x”. It is also the foundation for a vast number of concepts (namely, the next 4 areas we will discuss). If a student cannot recall 6 x 2, it should be as much of a red flag as knowing only 25 letters.
We are not afraid to ask our children to memorize the alphabet, in fact, we find it essential to their learning. Then why do we feel wrong to ask our students to memorize the times-table? In my opinion, the times-table is the only thing you will ever need to memorize in math.
Most of the students did not advance beyond Grade 4 level questions — the year we introduce multiplication in their curriculum.
How to…
Strategy 2: Find Patterns
There are many fun patterns in the times-table that make memorization shockingly easy. I would like to share 3 patterns that manage to surprise my students every time.
The multiples of 9…
The times-table mirrors itself diagonally… along the square numbers!
Strategy 3: Think Actively
Memorization is the first step. To build a stronger foundation, students must apply their knowledge actively. They need to make connections between the multiples and their answer. One way to think actively is to practice remembering the pairs of multiples that would yield the same answer, like 12.
There are 3 pairs: 12 x 1, 6 x 2, 3 x 4.
This exercise can be presented as a fun game in class, such as Jeopardy! It is important for students to go back and forth fluidly from multiples to their answers, because it will build a strong foundation for division.
Strategy 4: Rephrase the Question
To help students understand division, state the question, and then rephrase it by using the multiplication concept. For example, “What is 35 divided by 7?” If the student looks confused, follow up by rephrasing, “What number multiplied by 7 equals 35?” This way, students trigger their prior knowledge and start to see how the concepts of multiplication and division connect.
This is the reason that Strategy 3: Think Actively is so important. If a student is fluent in making connections between the numbers on the times-table, then division becomes a game of finding the missing number that forms the relationship.
Strategy 5: Stay Organized
Disorganized writing is a sign of a disorganized mind. Math is highly about organization, and the most frustrating would be finding out that our own messy writing was the cause of mistakes. A trick to help sort out the confusion is to practice our organizational skills.
When doing long divisions, it is essential to remain organized by writing in columns, using arrows, and drawing horizontal lines. The columns help students focus on dividing into the right numbers, the arrows help carry down the right numbers (if they missed one, it will be easy to spot out!), and the horizontal lines help organize the numbers they should be subtracting.
It seems very simple and intuitive, yet many students fail to do this. If we can help encourage good habits, students could eliminate unnecessary mistakes that can frustrate them in the learning process.
Strategy 6: Part Of A Whole
Once the concept of fractions is introduced and the good ol’ pizza pie is dissected into slices, it is important to help students understand that fractions represent a part out of a whole. A trick is to emphasize “out of”:
= 3 out of 7 “pieces”
Strategy 7: Do the Math
The relationship between fractions and decimals is by doing the math. Many students don’t understand that fractions are basically division, that when you divide the numerator by the denominator, you will arrive with the decimal answer!
The 4 most common word problems that students got wrong on the research assessment were all money-related. Beyond the challenges that come with word problems, students can strengthen their computational skills by employing all the strategies that we explored above.
Strategy 5: Stay Organized
When solving money problems, it is helpful to set up the question vertically by using columns and aligning the decimal points. The tenth and hundredth decimal places would be aligned automatically, as color-coded below.
It seems very simple and intuitive, yet many students fail to do this. If we can help encourage good habits, students could eliminate unnecessary mistakes that can frustrate them in the learning process.
Strategy 6: Part Of A Whole + Strategy 7: Do the Math
Some students have trouble understanding dollars and cents in math terms. They cannot see why 75 cents become $0.75. Fractions can be used to shed some light.
How many cents are in 75 cents? 75
How many cents are in one dollar? 100 (now, translate this to “part of a whole”)
75 cents out of a dollar is 75 out of 100, or (here, do the math)
= $0.75
Or…
How many quarters make 75 cents? 3
How many quarters make a dollar? 4 (now, translate this to “part of a whole”)
3 quarters out of a dollar is 3 out of 4, or (here, do the math)
= $0.75
^{1. Frontier College’s annual national research in low-income areas measuring community impact on academic achievements. Students in Grades 1-8 participate across Canada. Refer to Part 1: Common Mistakes for more info.}
^{2. Shellenbarger, Sue. “The Best Language for Math: Confusing English Number Words Are Linked to Weaker Skills.” The Wall Street Journal. WSJ.com, 15 Sep. 2014. Web. 15 Mar. 2016. <http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-best-language-for-math-1410304008>.}
We conducted local studies in Toronto for students between ages 6 – 14 (Grades 1 – 8) to understand their level of academic performance. In this article out of two parts, I will be discussing the common problem areas we noticed from the research results. In the next article, I will be sharing effective strategies to target these pain points.
Here are the five most problematic areas in math for students:
Multiplication is arguably the most widely used concept in mathematics and everyday life. I think of multiplication at the bottom of the math food chain, and with a limited understanding of it, everything else that follows struggles to survive. Elementary and high school students alike struggle with both the concept and the execution of multiplication. Teachers try to find new ways to help students understand this behemoth, but it only confuses them further. One reason is that some teachers teach multiplication with addition.
Consider 4×4=?
Some teacher uses the logic that 4×4 is the double of 4×2, which is 8.
So, if we take 8 and double it, 8+8=16. (The student can think [4×2]+[4×2]=16).
Therefore, 4×4=16.
Were you confused? Don’t worry, so are our students. Undoubtedly, it is a great way to help students understand the concept of multiplication and notice patterns in the times table. The problem is that students follow this method in executing multiplication problems.
Elementary and high school students alike struggle with both the concept and the execution of multiplication.
First of all, it is a complicated process that requires students to go back and forth between multiplication and addition (and we are still confused why our students are confused?). Secondly, it is a time-consuming 3-step process that should be accomplished in one. Thirdly, this method does not work with every question, which requires the student to understand why it works sometimes and does not in other times. Most importantly, although both methods yield the same answer, thinking through 4×4 is not the same as 8+8. The former shows 4 groups of 4, the latter shows 8 more of 8. They are completely different concepts. Furthermore, the purpose of multiplication is defeated when we execute with addition, because multiplying is meant to be a shortcut for doing really long addition.
The problem mounts when a student, with a questionable handle of multiplication, advances to the next grade and is expected to perform the reverse of it – division. How are they supposed to go backwards when they cannot even go forwards confidently? If the student is using addition to multiply, how are they supposed to divide now?
With an even more shaky grasp on division, the student is now expected to use fractions, which is a form of division. The confusion grows still.
3 x
4 is 3 of 4 parts, or 3 divided by 4.
If a student fails to understand fractions, then they will fail to understand decimals, because decimals is another form to represent fractions. That leads to…
Progressively, we see that a lack in basic math skills snowballs into a lack of important life skills.
From the research results, the top four word problems that were answered incorrectly were all money-related. It comes as less surprising to know that these students struggle with fractions and decimals.
Consider a penny in decimal form: 1/100 of a dollar, or $0.01.
Progressively, we see that a lack in basic math skills snowballs into a lack of important life skills. For many students, the problem starts in elementary school and continues into high school. Ultimately, they carry the same math confusion into their adult life, possibly with large financial implications.
It is essential to understand where weaknesses lie that hinder math understanding. In the next article, I will share some effective strategies to tackle these problematic areas. If you have questions or suggestions to bridge students’ learning gap, please share below. I would be glad to incorporate your strategies in my next article.
For additional readings on re-engaging students in math, see Education Ink’s Re-engaging Students in Math or the Atlantic’s The Math-Class Paradox.
]]>One of the most painful classroom experiences I had as a Literacy Tutor was in a Grade 10 Applied math class. As a passionate math educator, I felt the death of the subject in this classroom. Students were given booklets of worksheets to complete without understanding why they were learning the material. The teacher walked around the class yelling instructions at random intervals, while the class chatted among themselves as they felt confused and overwhelmed by the content. Every class, the students were expected to perform perfect computation, and left the room with no idea how to apply what they learned or why they were learning it.
Student engagement is at its highest when the content is interactive and when learning becomes an empowering experience.
Frankly, I don’t blame the students for being disengaged. The classroom felt like a worksheet factory rather than a place that cultivated thinking, exploring, and learning. I mean, it’s just sad comparing that lesson to their ever engaging smartphones. How did we expect the kids to be interested?
There are two ways to re-engage students in math learning which can happen simultaneously in a classroom.
We hear the term a lot nowadays. We also hear from many educators that math is one of the most challenging areas to apply inquiry-based teaching. However, I feel some teachers remain too focused on computation rather than connecting concepts with a bigger idea. This gap, I believe, is where inquiries can happen.
If you were to teach the unit on volume and 3-D shapes, where would you begin? Teachers I had in the past always began the lesson with showing the formulas. They would explain the rationale behind the formulas to generate understanding.
I want to create lessons that reverse this order. Instead of showing the formulas at the beginning, I would ask the class an intriguing question to spur discussions. For example, “In preparation of a party, do you prefer to help your mom fill 50 cups with lemonade or 1 large tank? (Assume your favorite TV show will start in an hour.)” The students would likely inquire about the size of the cups and the tank. To guide deeper conversations, I could further develop the problem with more questions, and invite the class to add in their own.
Does the shape of the tank affect the answer?
What about the speed of the pour?
If we poured the lemonade at 1cm^{3}/s for 30 minutes, how much liquid would the tank hold?
When would the tank overflow?
In exploring through questions, students would slowly connect length, width, height, shape, and volume. Only after that would I reveal the formulas to explain how they are connected. A simple brain teaser evolved and became more complex as the students tackled the problem from different angles and manipulated it at their will. They began creating their own math questions. Student engagement is at its highest when the content is interactive and when learning becomes an empowering experience.
In an education system that tends to reward response highly over process, it inadvertently breeds a culture of math phobia where learners feel inept and diffident in making mistakes. Our youth need to learn to embrace failure (scary!). They need to start viewing errors not as a reflection of their ability, but merely as taking different paths to find an answer. Within my inquiry-based classroom, I want to embrace, celebrate and cherish mistakes as part of the learning experience.
Math is about doggedness. A willingness to try over and over again despite meeting roadblocks is a key quality to be successful in the subject. To teach math is to teach perseverance.
I would ask my students to brainstorm as many possible ways to approach a problem by referencing concepts that were taught in class regardless of units in the textbook. As they approach the problem, if they applied a concept incorrectly, they must try again. Students could build confidence by talking through their original line of thought and where it went wrong (either to themselves or out loud, depending on their comfort level).
Most importantly, students themselves need to understand that making mistakes is part of learning, and being gritty is part of success. To achieve the desired learning outcomes, it is vital to build a safe environment and trusting relationships in the classroom, and it is up to the teacher to create such an architecture.
]]>My mind is full of excitement and ambition as I think about what I would teach my future students. I want to instill passion through curriculum contents and case studies: the students will be introduced the creative world of marketing, the abstruse world of finance, and the dull but vital concepts of accounting (sorry to any passionate accountants out there!). Like any other subjects, however, things can get lost in a standard curriculum. There is the other side to business that I want my students to understand, and I hope, by the end of the year, they will have learned something that they can carry with them outside the classroom.
First and foremost, I want my students to understand the value of perseverance: even if the task on hand was challenging or boring, we remain focused, accept failure, and work really, really hard.
No one understands grit like Will Smith. He said, “The only thing that is distinctly different about me is I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be outworked, period. […] The majority of people who aren’t getting the places they want, or aren’t achieving the things that they want, is strictly based on hustle. It’s strictly based on being outworked, on missing crucial opportunities. If you stay ready, you ain’t gotta get ready.” I want my students to aspire to be like that.
[S]tudents … learn to view failure not as a reflection of their worth, but merely as taking various approaches to find an answer.
Grit is difficult to teach. It is a set of attitude and personal perspectives that must be honed through time. The key to being gritty is the willingness to try over and over again. As a teacher, I can ask the class to solve a complex business problem. Through the activity, the students will learn to view failure not as a reflection of their worth, but merely as taking various approaches to find an answer. At the end, we applaud each other for our efforts and creativity (eg. Recognizing efforts over results: “Laura spent 27 minutes to find 4 approaches that did not work. She is trying again and getting closer to the answer.”).
We teach our youth the meaning and consequences of failure by testing and grading them throughout their school life. We scare them into achieving good grades and finding the “correct” answer. Naturally, they are afraid to be incorrect. But in the world after graduation, to have an incorrect answer is not a failure. Everyone is hired to try to find the right answer, if it exists. However, if we do not persevere, if we do not work hard, if we are not gritty, it is a sure path to failure in life.
I’m certain it will be hard for my class to understand, since the only life they know is bubble-wrapped in a school setting. But I want my students to start imagining a world that is not graded by report cards, instead, it has real obstacles and sometimes, full of haters. How will they overcome these obstacles? Are they going to try and try again? In the end, how do they want to prove their haters wrong?
No matter the industry or profession, we all need to work with people. Most of them will be great people, but there is no doubt we will come across someone who is just plain rude. Professionalism is not a fancy word telling us to dress appropriately or speak in a certain manner. It is a very true reality in which we have to cultivate the skills to work with someone different from us, even somebody we don’t like. How to maintain a working relationship in such a situation and reach a common goal demands tact and patience.
The most effective way to learn people skills is through group work. Forming teams of 3 or 4, I will handpick groups to create a disconnected dynamic. An extrovert can be grouped with an introvert, or a visionary with a detailed thinker. Throughout the project, we will have weekly touch points as a class on topics such as management styles or group psychology to deepen our understanding of teamwork.
Each student can begin a personality test to understand the management style they prefer, the way they like to be recognized, and how they like to receive feedback. Then, the class will be separated into groups according to their personality category. We will learn as a class how to effectively work with each personality type, how to give one another feedback, and how to recognize our peers the way they feel most appreciated.
Teamwork comes from a deeper understanding of our peers. Every week, we find out a little more about the person sitting next to us. The students will slowly understand why Jesse likes to work alone, why April appreciated the direct feedback while David struggled to accept, etc. When understanding deepens, the students will be more opened in finding ways that work for everyone in the team. In my wishful thinking, I hope my students will carry this learning outside of the classroom and see people with more empathy.
As mentioned earlier, our youth has been taught to accept the one and only right answer. The students I worked with in the past six months so readily accept my answer as the correct one, and never debate to prove that they, too, can be right. We are turning our students into a machine that accepts anything we give them, and mindlessly spits out the information without processing or understanding it.
[S]tudents are encouraged to push for their personal best instead of finding the one “best” answer. I believe we need more of that in our classrooms today.
It is undoubtedly daunting when they are put in a place to think, to have an opinion, or to challenge status quo in institutions of higher education or workplace. I learned quickly in my first corporate job that there is almost never a right or wrong answer, because no one knows the perfect solution to anything. The only thing that really exists is a better answer. A more innovative solution. An improvement to the present. It is never a finite answer. Actually, settling on a finite answer can be deadly. It means you are satisfied and idle.
In my classroom, I hope to keep assessments to the minimal, because it does not reflect the business world. Instead, I wish to cultivate innovation and creativity from my students through class discussions and activities. As a class activity, I can show a short case study describing how a company operates. Then I will ask the class to come up with an idea to improve their operations further: the new idea can be anything from increasing operational efficiency to innovating product line. Using the tools they learned throughout the year, the students will focus on the task, present their ideas at the end of class, and everyone votes for their favorite choice. In this activity, students are encouraged to push for their personal best instead of finding the one “best” answer. I believe we need more of that in our classrooms today.
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For career changers who want to jump into the field of education, my experience can be an example of breaking into a system that is getting tighter and more demanding. After six months on this journey, here are the important things to consider before deciding to quit your job to become a teacher.
Because the teaching profession is localized to its regional laws, competition in different countries and different regions can vary. For example, Canada is saturated with teachers in some provinces, while others are lacking. In Ontario with too many teachers, starting September 2015, all teacher education programs will be completed in two years instead of one. The increased program length hopes to improve job prospects by rebalancing the supply and demand of teachers. While in Newfoundland, it is relatively easy to obtain a teaching license.
Get creative: leverage social media, craft your personal mission, work for schools or organizations that represent your brand.
In saturated provinces, applicants are getting ever more competitive to fight for limited program space. Many candidates have over 1,000 teaching hours, a strong network in the public school system, and recommendation letters from influential people in the school board before attending teachers’ college. For someone who is changing industry, it is stressful to compete.
The competition seems daunting, but there are advantages for applicants who are coming in from a different field of work. Universities will look at your overall application, which includes any industry experience, specific character qualities, and maturity. Matured candidates are often held high in the eyes of recruiters and are seen fit to become a leader in the classroom. It is also important to get creative: leverage social media, craft your personal mission, work for schools or organizations that represent your brand.
There are strict prerequisite requirements for teaching degrees. Before quitting your current job, be sure to understand the next steps that will lead you to teach the subject(s) you like. In Canada and Australia, for example, candidates must satisfy requirements for two teaching subjects in order to pursue teacher qualifications. This requires a robust undergraduate transcript with courses geared towards two distinct subjects. In US and England, candidates are only required to choose one teaching subject. It is essential to review your transcript and other certifications to understand what you qualify for, and any gaps between what you can teach and what you want to teach.
Mathematics is a good example: A commerce degree is not considered a prerequisite to Mathematics. Many Canadian and American universities are looking for Math majors. In England, a commerce degree is considered 30% related to Math; you are required to take two additional Math courses before the program start date. Unfortunately, I found no other options for a candidate to demonstrate his/her ability to teach a subject – such as field experience – without the required prerequisites.
For career changers with a business background, there is a growing demand for business teachers in secondary schools. Leading faculties in education – such as Harvard and UBC – are starting to offer business teacher education programs, and a commerce undergraduate degree fulfills all prerequisites.
As you are researching on schools and degree programs, you will find a significant difference from region to region, depending on the local education laws.
Frankly, there are many obstacles, but if you are prepared in knowledge, you are able to make an informed decision that will add to your life.
Bachelor’s with teacher certification: Some schools – such as UBC or University of Michigan – offer a Bachelor of Education leading to a teaching certification, but requires an initial Bachelor degree with an appropriate major.
Master’s with teacher certification: Other schools – such as Harvard or Boston College – offer a Master of Education leading to a teaching certification, and requires an undergraduate degree with an appropriate major.
Diploma or certification: Other schools offer a teaching diploma or certification, and requires an undergraduate degree with an appropriate major. Candidates obtain a certification without a degree; it is common in England.
At the end of the programs, all candidates will be qualified to apply for licensure. However, the title of the degree, or the absence of, should be a part of your decision when applying. Because the degrees offered are tied to the province/state/region, carefully consider whether you would like to live and work at the location for the duration of your program and beyond.
Although it has been a challenging journey, the past six months were the most rewarding times yet in my career life. Frankly, there are many obstacles, especially for career changers, but if you are prepared in knowledge, you are able to make an informed decision that will add to your life. I can certainly attest to that.
]]>Monument Mountain Regional High School in Massachusetts took a bold step away from regular classroom structure, and replaced grades, tests, homework, and even teachers with group discussions and independent projects. The students become their own drivers for learning, and the teachers take a backseat as guidance.
The students teach themselves, and then to each other. They are accountable to all their friends in a small group. In the video, Annalena, one of the 9 students participating in this alternative education, compares letting her friends down and getting a bad grade on a test. Social loathing and slacking in a group-based learning environment suddenly disappear because no one wants to disappoint their peers. Many urban classroom management challenges can be improved, and even removed, if the students were interested in what they are doing, and “everyone is interested in something” (Charles Tsai).
See how a classroom can look very different:
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