Sunday, August 7, 2016

Goal for the Year: Keep Taking Risks

I didn't intend to blog today, but I had a "moment" yesterday, and I need to share it, mostly for my own benefit.

As a teacher, I do not tend to avoid risks. I flipped my classroom. I implemented a broad retake and redo policy. In the last few years I have used methods and strategies and lessons completely outside my comfort zone. I play around with new technologies.

Does everything always work smoothly? No. But the rewards of all those things have been greater than the hiccups.'s a new school year (students start tomorrow) with new opportunities for growth. I have pushed myself and my students HARD the last couple of years, but there are still improvements to be made.

One area of focus is developing students conceptual understanding of math. WHY does math work the way it does? An understanding of the math is infinitely preferable to blindly using a rule and not having a clue why it works.

One topic where I find students' conceptual understanding to be particularly lacking is subtracting integers. Students really have no idea what subtraction means. They've been given rules to follow (this is improving!), but most students will miss subtraction most of the time.

Integer operations are not an 8th grade "thing." We use integers, but the foundation for integer operations happens in the 7th grade.

But I start the year in Pre-Algebra with a review of integer operations. It is familiar to students, it boosts their confidence as we begin the year, and it is very important to the work we do the rest of the year.

In years past, this has meant a review of "the rules." Singing songs, writing rules in foldables, practice problems.

This year's 8th graders didn't learn "rules" in the 7th grade. They learned how integers worked. So there will be no singing this year. We're going to work with number lines (I started this some last year).

I was looking around over the summer for a good, conceptual integer lesson, and I found one using temperature as a context that focuses primarily on subtraction. Perfect! I thought it would be great to have a nice collaborative lesson at the beginning of the year to show students that THIS is how this class is going to work.

Last night I printed the lesson out to look through it and get a better feel for it.

And I began to panic.

"This is confusing."

"This is too hard."

"This is too deep."

"This will take too long."

"They'll never get this."

"This will be a disaster."

"We're going to have to scrap this lesson. Now."

"We'll just teach the rules and do some practice."

And then I stopped myself.

Do I want my students to develop better conceptual understanding?

Do I want my students to "make sense of problems and persevere in solving them"? (Mathematical Practice Standard #1)

Do I want my students to improve their modeling and justifying skills?

Yes, yes, and yes.

So there will be no scrapping of this lesson. It may need some scaffolding and students will need lots of support and cheerleading. But my students can do this. I can do this.

If I want to continue to move my students where they need to be, I must continue to push myself. Teach the risky lessons. Don't revert to what's comfortable just because it's easier and less of a headache.

After I had this little conversation with myself, the inspirational people I follow on Twitter unknowingly confirmed my resolve.

"What's worse than failure is not trying in the first place." - @teachergoals

"Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will" - Karim Sedikki, posted by @teachergoals

"Don't be afraid to scrape the paint off and do it again. This is the way you learn, trial and error, over and over, repetition. It pays you great dividends, great, great dividends." - Bob Ross, posted by @NFLaFave

The goal for the year (well, one of many areas of focus)? Keep taking risks. My students deserve it.

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