How to fire kids up to be excited for their core subjects
Monday, December 17, 2018
I spent years as a high school math teacher unsuccessfully trying to find an answer to this question: Why didn’t my students have as much passion and enthusiasm for math as they did for their extracurricular activities, and what could I do as a teacher to change that?
The closest I had ever come to reaching an answer actually came two years after I left the classroom to become a school administrator. That year (over a decade ago), my school tried an experiment. We paired a math teacher with a woodshop teacher to offer a class entitled "Geometry in the Woodshop."
The class was offered as an interdisciplinary project-based experience where students would work through a series of woodshop projects that would apply various geometry topics. The two-credit class was co-taught by both teachers each day.
The experiment was a success as kids generally found success and increased their engagement and excitement for math. Of course, it helped that we started with a group of students who already liked working in the woodshop.
Unfortunately, the experiment was not picked up for a second year because we just didn’t have enough students elect to enroll. With such a small school population to start with, the woodshop was too niche of a topic to pair geometry with. Now, if we could have paired math with something like band, or sports, we may have been on to something greater.
This recent Mind/Shift article attempts to shed light on an answer to this question by suggesting that to engage students and teachers, educators need to treat subjects like extracurriculars.
The article goes on to state, “The challenge for teachers who want to tap into extracurricular engagement is to ensure students are learning the required curriculum while also making room for differentiation.” There are different ways to accomplish this. One way is to incorporate the ideals of project-based learning.
The article gives the example of the Clark Montessori School in Cincinnati where time at the end of every marking period is earmarked for project-based electives of the students' choosing. "In courses like ‘Rockets and Roller Coasters’ students design their own scale models of both, and visit military bases to see rockets in action and amusement parks for roller coasters."
Another strategy is to allow students to move through learning at their own pace. The Mind/Shift article referenced Lodestar Academy Charter School in Oakland, the day is organized into two parts: A part that allows students time for expeditionary and project-based learning, and a part dedicated to time in literacy and math labs where students learn these at their own pace. The article noted, "But by letting students work at their own pace, they see huge gains in student achievement for all."
In both of these examples, student motivation and engagement were promoted through choice and voice, and deep, authentic learning. Educators opted for depth of learning over the "coverage" of material.
How can classroom teachers make the switch to deeper learning? One way to start is to visit this website where educators can browse resources for teaching and learning for deeper learning.
Topics covered include project-based learning, work-based learning, blended learning, inquiry-based learning, connected learning, personalized learning, performance assessments, portfolio assessments, and project-based learning assessments.
It is natural for us as educators to walk to tread lightly with this topic for fear that a lack of coverage of material will lead to gaps in learning. I challenge this misconception by asking you how you learn best.
I’ll bet it isn’t always when someone explains every detail of a topic to you while you sit and listen. You need time to dive deep into topics — to explore the parts that are unfamiliar to you, to test out theories, and to make your own connections to prior knowledge and extend your thinking in new ways.
This only happens when you engage in deeper learning. I ask, why would we want any different for our students?
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