Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Unforeseen Benefits of Team Teaching

My colleague Jarrod Huntimer and I (along with our student teacher Mr. Ott) have been team teaching for just over a month now.  (Here is a summary of our setup.)  Since we just got our computers up and running this past week, we honestly have done very little innovating or non-traditional.  This past week, we were finally able to assign, complete, collect, and assess homework paperlessly.  Edmodo is working very well as a vehicle for that process.

I want to briefly talk about some of the unforeseen benefits of our team teaching experiment.  First of all, we do all lesson planning collaboratively.  There is a song from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure called Two Heads are Better than One.  We bounce ideas off each other.  We discuss what has worked for us individually in the past and how we can improve things together.  Much more thought is being put into each activity and lesson thrown at our students.  Lesson planning is a fun time that usually includes many laughs and inside jokes.

Second, because of our collaboration and joint presenting of the lessons, I am continually learning new things and improving as a teacher.  I see different ways to represent mathematical concepts and get a firsthand look at the craft of another.  Jarrod and I are both very confident in ourselves and understand we're in this experiment together.  Mr. Ott has shown great promise and is well on his way to being a great teacher.  We all offer constructive ideas to improve our methods and take those ideas to heart.

For example, one day I was working on a typical geometry problem with students involving angle addition postulate with some algebra tied into it.  I was asking students for their ideas on what we could next to solve for a variable.  As we worked down the page algebraically, I began to run out of room on my SMART board page.  So I started to work upward in the open space left on my page.  (See diagram below.)  We finished the problem and went on with our business.

After the class period, Jarrod says to me, "Nice uphill algebra."  He wasn't meaning to make me feel bad or look silly, but just offering some constructive criticism.  I looked at the screen and thought about what I just modeled to students.  It was not acceptable.  We ask the students to organize their work in a neat manner.  How hard would it have been to just add more "digital page" to my document?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I used to do this all the time at my previous school.  My Smart board there was placed a lot lower on the wall than ours at Brookings.  I'm a pretty tall guy and writing that low was challenging for me.  Moreover, students sitting in the front would block the views of students in the back of the room if I wrote below a certain point.  So there were a numerous times I would work back uphill with my problems.

This one time of Jarrod watching me and offering his critique has made me think a lot more about how I'm writing on the Smart board.  And it has made me a better teacher.

Third, our team teaching model makes classroom management 100 times easier.  With two (or three) of us in the room (even when we have our biggest classes of 45 students), it is easy to float around the room and manage behavior problems.  If one of us is presenting at the board or leading discussion, the other two are roaming and making sure all students are engaged and following along.  When students are working in small groups, the three of are floating around and guiding when necessary.

Lastly, students have three instructors that they can go to for help.  When Jarrod takes off early for football on Friday, Mr. Ott and I (and the substitute) cover the class.  Jarrod's students are still able to come in after school for help, even though Jarrod has to leave for practice.  His students and my students really are simply OUR students.

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