Friday, November 7, 2014

4-State Math Collaboration Conclusion

Today the first of two 4-State Math Teacher Leader conferences wrapped up.  I had a 400 mile drive across the state to let my brain stew about things I took away from the conference.

Here's a brief summary of our two days of work.

  • Students need to be engaged in tasks in which they are required to use higher-order thinking skills.  The best tasks are accessible to all students and allow multiple entry points.
  • These types of tasks call for teachers to be less helpful and allow students to wrestle with the concepts involved.  Often times teachers assist students too much which can cause a potential higher-level task to lose its value.
  • Equity in education is something that needs some attention.

Other thoughts and ideas from the conference...

  • State leaders are trying to find the best way to get more PD to classroom teachers, especially in the grades of 6-12.  
  • It was really motivating to be around a group of people as passionate and invested in improving math instruction as I am. I met some great classroom teachers who are doing great things.  I plan to continue to collaborate with those folks as we move along.
I feel as though we could classify a majority of 9-12 math teachers into one of four categories.

Category 1: Leave me alone
Teachers in this category love the walls that protect them and their students from outside influences.  They prefer to be left alone and have no interest in changing the way they do business.  These are the teachers I have no time for.

Category 2: Mild intrigue
Teachers in this category make frequent visits to category 1, but may be interested in what else is out there.  These teachers have no real interest in hunting for activities and lessons, nor for taking risks.  They are intrigued by seeing how well something worked in another classroom and would consider implementing some changes in their classroom activities as long as the new activity come pre-packaged and usable upon opening.

Category 3: Looking for the light switch
Teachers in this category are open and willing to change, but aren't sure where to begin.  They are typically overwhelmed by the volume of resources available online.  If we can channel the best materials into one place for these teachers to hunt through, then there is serious potential for improvement.

Category 4: Figuring it out
Teachers in this category have already begun to refine their lessons to include deep, engaging tasks that require higher-level thinking.  These teachers typically know where to find the best resources and are aware when more are born.  These teachers are the ones we need in the front line, fighting the battle and swinging the war.  

Last thought:
There is already a movement to try to corral the best resources in one place.  The South Dakota DOE has worked on developing myOER, which is designed to align great lessons with CCSS.  This is a start.  However, I fear if too many resources fall into any one given place, category 2 and 3 teachers lose confidence in their ability to hunt.   

I have worked with Smarter Balance these past 15 months developing the Smarter Balanced Digital Library.  Again, great concept, but with over 1500 resources available to teachers, it too is overwhelming for many teachers to browse through.  

I'm looking forward to part 2 of the 4-state collaboration coming this spring.  

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