Monday, September 16, 2013

Feeling Inspired

I've now begun my foray into Instructional Coaching.  This is a first for our district, so it's been a bit of a muddled mess figuring out how I can be helpful for teachers.  However, I think I'm on to something effective.

First, through an online classmate, I've discovered an amazing resource for 3-12 grade teachers: http://www.newsela.com.  New articles are uploaded every weekday by a team of journalists, and articles have been vetted for content to make sure they are appropriate and relevant to students (although if you're teaching in the lower grades, you should definitely do your own verifying first).  But that's all pretty standard stuff until you get to the big "WOW" factor - articles can be adjusted on-the-fly for varying Lexile levels!  This can be done on an individual basis directly by the reader.  So once a teacher has set up a class, students register into that class and then begin reading articles, which can be assigned (or hidden) by the teacher.  If they're reading the article and are like, "huh?" they can adjust the reading level down to make it more accessible.  All the articles are CCSS-aligned as well, addressing one of the reading anchor standards.  The site is still in beta (which is good because it's free!), and new features are being rolled out constantly.  The latest I've seen is highlighting the text, which is pretty amazing in its potential.

Secondly, I've been particularly inspired by Dan Meyer.  His Math in Three Acts philosophical teaching shift is really amazing and activates the part of the brain students seem to be lacking - curiosity.  I watched his Pyramid of Pennies demo lesson with teachers at Cambridge and was hooked, and I've used Bucky the Badger with a class of sixth graders to some eye-opening results.  Several alarms went off during this lesson:

  • Students watched the video and many had no questions!  They were so used to having the question asked for them that they were truly confused when I asked them for questions.  We had to watch the video twice to get them even curious!
  • Students instantly disassociated the situation from the math.  When I asked them what the least number of push-ups they could imagine Bucky doing was, they said two!  With a score of 83!  Either they were totally lost on the pattern, or they ignored the situation completely and just started thinking of the math rules.
  • I saw a group of sixth grade students who got the correct answer cheer and fist pump when Act 3 revealed the answer.  They were hooked!
I couldn't tell enough people about my experiences with this lesson.  I felt so jazzed and excited about teaching just from this hour-long lesson (and an hour wasn't nearly long enough).  I even had a former student determined to reach a solution after school - and this was a kid who wrote a program in 4th grade to show long division for him because he didn't want to take the time to do his long division homework.

This week, I will be teaching that lesson to as many classes as I can.  This is what the CCSS Standards of Mathematical Practice are all about!
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