5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions

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This book was an interesting read.  It really makes you think about both what you have been doing in your classroom as well as ways you can improve your teaching.  I think it is important for students to have authorship in their own problem solving methods.

I do think that implementing this method would require a lot of work up front.  If you teach the same topics every year, it is not the same level of work each school year.  I do think that the level of work that has to be put in to implement this method could be a detractor for many teachers.  It’s something that I definitely think should be implemented if you have a strong, collaborative PLC because you have both extra support and feedback.

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Classroom Culture, Challenging Mathematical Tasks, and Student Persistence

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This article discussed the importance of creating a classroom culture that supports students in persisting with mathematical tasks.  The goal is to create an environment where students feel comfortable tackling more cognitively challenging problems and persisting in finding a solution.

The key components of successfully accomplishing this are:

1. The way the tasks are introduced. If students are given preliminary experience, they were more comfortable in engaging in the task and persisting with it.

2.  Providing support to students. It is important to allow students time to struggle individually, followed by working collaboratively, as well as overcoming the tendency to give students “hints” and to use prompts that differentiate the task.  The authors make the point that you can provide support for students without detracting their opportunity to understand the math.

3.  Providing an extension task.  It allows students who have finished to explore the topic with more depth and allows those students who are still working adequate time to work with the task to a conclusion.

4.  The sharing of student solutions.  The authors note that is important to observe students as they’re working and to thoughtfully choose students to contribute.  This allows students to explain their strategies and see that they are making an important contribution to the classroom.

5.  The method of assessment.  Students who feel like they are being assessed competitively (compared to their peers) are less willing to participate. Using a criterion-based rubric encourages students to participate and persist, because they can see up front how they will be graded, as well as encouraged them to reflect on their learning.

Overall, the authors concluded that a positive classroom environment is not just rules and procedures, but ongoing and interactive support from the teacher.

Chapters 7 & 9 – Images and Social Media

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Images are an extremely powerful way to convey a message.  I think it’s why the adage “A picture is worth a thousand words” is so enduring.

There are now a multitude of sites that now incorporate easy to find, high quality images.  The best known of these is Flickr.  Flickr is an online photo-sharing community that contains millions of photographs that cover a broad range of topics and interests.  Within Flickr, users can group, tag, share, and create presentations that can have incredible potential in the classroom.

The use of Flickr, and other sites like it, can extend across so many different subjects.  Having a strong visual can make conveying a new concept clearer and more meaningful for students.  Some students need that visual to really have a grasp of the material.  Using a photo-sharing website within my lessons could help a student understand the material.

With the option to tag and describe photos, it allows you can connect to a larger group of similar photos, allowing for a wider breadth of options.  Students can find and share photos that are meaningful to them, as well as find discussion points to share in class.  It also allows teachers to find classroom display ideas that can help them to create bulletin boards that help their students.  The ideas available to students and teachers are almost endless.

 
One of the most powerful things that can be done through Flickr is the idea of a virtual field trip. Due to geographical and economical constraints field trips are often unrealistic. While students are studying the Lewis and Clark expedition, they can be shown photos to enhance their understanding and help draw a better picture in the students mind.
 
Just as with all things connected, there are some risks.  The most obvious concern is appropriate content.  Because anyone with an internet connection and an email address can create a Flickr account, there are a great deal of inappropriate images on the site.  If you decide to use Flickr in the classroom, you need to be aware and set boundaries for your students.
 
Another powerful classroom tool is social media.  The textbook discusses the classroom potential of Ning and Facebook.  While I think that using social media in the classroom can be a unique way to build community and facilitate learning, sites like Facebook should be used with caution, if at all.  Because so many students are familiar with Facebook, it would seem to be a great option to use in the classroom, but it is too easy for students to get off track.  I think, for all the good that Facebook could provide, there are too many distractions for it to be a really viable tool.
 
Ning is a site that allows you to create your own social network, allowing you to easily upload videos, presentations, and articles.  This ability makes it a great resource for students.  Having a forum allows students to communicate with each other and with you as the teacher, allowing for greater collaboration.  It opens up a new way for students to have discussions, as well as providing a place for students to help each other with homework, as well as allow the teacher to chime in and make any necessary corrections.  Since the teacher can create the network, it limits the number of distractions, making it more beneficial tool in the classroom.

Homework

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Homework has become a very conflicted idea in the teaching and learning process.  Some argue that homework is always beneficial, and we should always assign students homework to reinforce ideas.  Others argue that homework does more harm than good and we should just focus on in-class work.

My opinion sits somewhere in the middle of those.  In some instances, I think homework is a great thing and can really help students to practice and understand a new concept.  In other cases, I think homework isn’t as effective as it could be.

The first article I read, Fischer’s “Homework and the Gradual Release of Responsibility”, argues that homework can be beneficial if done in a strategic way.  The article states that homework can be used as part of a process they call the “gradual release of responsibility”.  They detail this process as, at the beginning of a lesson, the teacher assumes all the responsibility for performing a task.  As instruction progresses, the responsibility shifts from the teacher to the student and, ultimately, the student is responsible for performing the task.
 
The second article I read, Eren’s “Are we wasting our children’s time by giving them more homework?”, argues that homework is really only beneficial in math courses.  In other subjects, such as language arts or science, students were essentially equal whether they had been given homework or not.  It raises interesting questions.  Should we only being giving out math homework?  Is there another type of homework we could assign in other subjects that would be equally as successful?
 
Overall, I think as a teacher I will assign homework.  I think a certain amount of individual work is necessary, but I don’t think you need to drown kids in work, hoping that something sticks.  I think the Fischer article resonates most with me.  I think it is important that the homework you do assign has a purpose (and is purposefully planned) and adds to the learning.

PLCs and Lesson Studies

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PLCs, or Professional Learning Communities, is an extended learning opportunity for teachers, encouraging collaborative learning and feedback within a school.  Implemented correctly, PLCs have the ability to aid all members of the education community: teachers, students, administrators, and parents.

Lesson studies, principally used within the Japanese schools system, work in the same way as PLCs.  Both focus on student success and creating a successful educational environment.  One of the positives of PLCs and Lesson Studies are the collaborative assessment of the teacher.  It introduces new teaching methods and perspectives, a supportive environment for both teachers and administrators, and a way to improve lessons and lesson practices.

The collaboration inherent in PLCs and Lesson Studies is applicable to all facets of education and is key to creating a successful academic environment.  However, it is important for PLCs to be organized and structured to ensure their success.  For greater teacher success, teachers should be involved in a variety of PLCs, not just subject/grade specific ones.  By being involved in a variety of PLCs, teachers get a greater perspective of the educational environment of their schools, as well as learning different techniques to approach problems.

Currently, schools operate under a “teacher as an island” mentality.  The teacher has their classroom, they teach the material in the way they think best, and there is no feedback from their colleagues.  This results in students with varying understandings of the set curriculum, many of whom aren’t adequately prepared to move on to the next level of their education.  PLCs allow teachers to work together, determining what material is being covered and what isn’t and working to best achieve their goals and the goals of their students.

While it might seem obvious that teachers should be communicating and collaborating, it really hasn’t been the case.  Just as students have different learning styles, teachers have different teaching styles.  It is incredibly important for teachers to balance their own individuality with the collaborative environment in order to create a classroom that can best prepare students for the next stage of their education, as well for the future.

Chapters 5 & 6 – RSS and Social Bookmarking

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Richardson notes that the amount of information that we are presented with on a daily basis can be overwhelming.  With so many blogs, news outlets, and other websites out there, it can be time consuming to stay up to date with the latest information on topics that interest you.  Using an RSS feed can help you keep track of what’s new, as well as keep all those interests organized without you getting lost in the depths of the internet. 

RSS can also be useful in the classroom.  I thought one interesting point that Richardson raised was the use of an RSS feed to keep track of student blogs.  Rather than searching out 20 or 30 different blogs, the RSS feeds let you know which ones have new posts.  I also think creating collaborative feeds that you share with students helps them to find sites or blogs that they may not have found on their own.

Another interesting idea is social bookmarking.  I think having a site where you can collect bookmarks and share them with others has a lot of potential.  Using a site like Delicious, you can keep track of sites, see sites that other people have shared (that you might otherwise have missed), and share your sites.  I think it is also a great way for students to share their information with the rest of the class.

While I do think that both RSS and social bookmarking could be useful in the classroom, I do think they could have drawback.  With both of them, there is the issue of quality vs quantity.  While it is important to have a solid understanding of a topic, and to see it from multiple perspectives, finding that information shouldn’t work to the detriment of student understanding.  I also think that with both RSS and social bookmarking, you run the risk of becoming overwhelmed by the feeds and new content.  From personal experience, I quickly found myself overwhelmed by some of my feeds, especially if I missed a day of checking them.  It could be difficult for students to stay caught up on their feeds and not feel bogged down by all the information rushing at them.

Chapter 4 – Wikis

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Wikis combine technology and collaboration.  Having this combination is not only just essential for the educational environment, but for everyday life as well.  Collaboration allows for a greater perspective on a topic, as well an expansion of ideas.  It allows students to develop teamwork skills, something that is vital for their futures.  Building a wiki with your class allows your students to work together, creating a site that covers the material in a way that is helpful to them and that they can be proud of.

In addition to building teamwork skills, a class-built wiki allows students to present information in a way that they can understand.  It is also an effective tool for students to use a reference guide, both throughout the school year, but also in later course work.  And because of the collaborative effort, students will also be exposed to different view points, allowing for a deeper, richer understanding of the material.

As with all technology-based classroom activities, there are some concerns.  Richardson mentions that with the use of wikis, the role of the teacher becomes a bit vague.  It can also be difficult to assess student work, since any of the students can add to or edit a wiki entry.  Content becomes an issue.  It can be difficult to find a balance between allowing students to explore and create, but also ensure that they are creating entries that are relevant to the class.