Seeing Our Curriculum in Action, Part 3

The past couple of days, I have been sharing observation notes I made during site visits to classrooms four years ago. (See here and here.) These were classrooms using the digital curriculum I helped write.

The reason I’ve been sharing these observations is to help illustrate the greater impact teachers often have on student learning than the curriculum materials they use.

So far I have shared two classroom examples where the lessons did not go very well. Today I’m going to share two more site visit summaries, but these are much more positive. (Yay!) By the way, I know I said I wouldn’t be sharing the positive story until tomorrow. I lied.

Lesson Observation

In the first observation, I observed another 5th grade class working on one of our geometry lessons. In the second observation, I observed a 4th grade class working on a lesson about compatible numbers for addition.

As always, I have removed any identifying information that would indicate the school or teacher. Other than that, I have left my notes as they were written so you can “hear” my thoughts from four years ago. These particular notes had some cringe-worthy moments for me. I made sure to comment on them in the here and now. The “me” from four years ago is in italics. The “me” from today is in regular text.

Observation 1

This classroom had a similar layout to the first classroom I visited, but with a little more room to walk around. It was still difficult to get to some of the students who were on the inside of the rows.

The layout I’m referring to is the one from yesterday’s post. Yesterday’s observation and the two from today all occurred at the same school.

The class had started this lesson the day before. The teacher started today with a review of what they learned yesterday which was the names of the polygons and the number of sides each polygon has. The students had written the words and definitions in their Math journal the day before. This school embraces the Math journal concept. Hooray!

During this review I saw students playing with their computers. Several students were using the zoom feature to zoom really close in on their screen so all you could see was a small corner of a picture. Other students were visiting music web sites and playing songs through their headphones.

One lesson I would take from this is that the instructional coaches should probably talk together about all of the good classroom routines they are seeing and share those with their teachers. Some teachers had great structure in their classroom and some didn’t. We need to ensure teachers are learning ways to manage the computers so students are able to pay attention and use their computers the way they are supposed to.

I really don’t like that I said, “…the way they are supposed to.” It sounds very authoritarian. But, since I’m not editing these notes I have to live with how I sounded back then. Ah, to be able to go back and choose my words again.

The goal for today was to practice what the students did yesterday. Unfortunately, the teacher unlocked other activities before the Independent Learning activity, so it was confusing to the students. They had to go to the end of their train and then when they finished the Independent Learning, then they could go back to the beginning of their train.

Basically students saw activities listed in the order the teacher unlocked them. In this case the activity she wanted the students to go to first happened to be at the end of their “train”, or list, of activities which is kind of confusing for the students.

This teacher told me she was very happy with the geometry unit. She said it was giving students experiences they couldn’t have otherwise. She gave the example of teaching students how to use a protractor. Without the computer, she said she would have to go almost student by student to help them learn how to use the protractor correctly, but with the computer providing feedback she was free to go to the students who were having the most trouble. I think it’s topics like this and measurement where teachers see the value of T2K the most. Topics like multiplication and subtraction the teachers are comfortable teaching because it’s just algorithms, but with more hands-on topics the added value of the computer is much more evident.

I may not be editing my text from these site visits, but I can’t let that slip by. I, personally, do not see computation as “just algorithms”. I was referring to teachers who already feel comfortable teaching these computation skills because they see them as “just algorithms”. Whether they are right or wrong for doing that, this observation is about how those teachers would likely see greater benefit from our digital curriculum materials when they teach other topics like geometry and measurement.

During this class, I visited with many students as they worked. Most seemed to be staying on task working through the various practice activities.

The teacher had the real-time monitoring running so when one student was missing many questions, the teacher saw and went over to work with that student. (Unfortunately the monitoring was showing on the projector so every student could see who was having trouble. I don’t think the teacher intended for that to happen. It was a bit embarrassing for that student.)

As I listened to the students, I saw that many did not know what the word adjacent meant. Several had used the dictionary button to look it up, but unfortunately the definition it provided was not useful for a 5th grade student. I was still happy to see that the students had been resourceful! Maybe one day we can link to a more child-friendly dictionary.

Our company’s first attempt at a dictionary was linking to some dictionary web site, but it was the standard version. It was not geared towards math or elementary-age students.

Observation 2

This was a collaborative team teaching (CTT) class taught by one regular teacher and one special education teacher. One of the teachers in the room loves Time To Know, while the other teacher wishes it would go away.

This teacher is very behind schedule. This lesson should have been taught long ago.

This was my FAVORITE teacher to watch. She is the perfect example of what Time To Know is meant to do. The teacher taught just like she normally would, she just happened to have the computer as a tool as she did her job. It was amazing!

The thing about this is that I think she already is a good teacher; she just has a new tool to assist her. Other teachers I saw where the lesson did not go as smoothly were probably not great teachers to begin with.

The bluntness of the last sentence makes me cringe. I’m not going to pretend I haven’t been critical of the teachers I observed, I clearly have, but it’s because what I saw this particular teacher do is what I would expect most teachers to do. She shouldn’t be the exception, and that’s what she felt like.

Again, the lines of responsibility are blurred. Obviously it’s not our job to produce good teachers, but it’s clear that our lessons are designed to be used by skilled teachers. It’s not just about knowing the math. This teacher also had great questioning skills, routines, and knowledge of how kids think. Teachers who are not particularly skilled are at a disadvantage, even more so when they don’t prepare for the lessons ahead of time. While making teachers better at their job may not be our responsibility, I think anything we can do in this area will go a long way towards the success of our implementation and our resulting reputation.

Not to mention that students deserve teachers as good as her!

The teacher started the lesson by asking the students what the word “compatible” means. She told a little story about how she and her husband are compatible. Then she gave students two examples: 6 +4 and 6+7 and she asked which expression had compatible numbers.

After discussing the meaning of compatible, she called the students to the carpet in front of the Smart board to watch the opening movie. She did a great thing here. She told the students, “We’re about to watch a short movie. Even though it’s fun and entertaining, we have math in our brains now. We just got done talking about compatible numbers. Listen for the math in the movie.” It was great!

Halfway through the movie she paused it and said, “What does being at a restaurant have to do with numbers and math?” The students responded that they would have to add up prices which can be hard if there are a lot.

She also asked the students, “What does it mean when it says two consecutive numbers? Does consecutive mean the same thing as compatible?”

After a student answered the question she said, “So Molly told her answer, Jake can you tell it again in your own words?”

“Those of you who have a Math journal, write your answer in your journal. If you don’t have your journal, I want you to look at the numbers on the board and find two more numbers that are easy to add together.”

Unfortunately this is when the lesson ran into technical problems. The teacher tried writing on the Smart board, but the text only appeared on her laptop screen. I tried helping until tech support arrived, but I wasn’t able to do anything. The tech support tried helping but couldn’t fix it either. This pretty much ruined the momentum of the lesson. I was so sad because she had been doing such a phenomenal job! Other teachers need to see this teacher. If we videotape anyone, I hope we can get a video of her in action. She was incredible!

This really is one of the sad points of having a digital curriculum – technical issues. They can seriously derail a lesson. This is an issue beyond my skill set seeing as I don’t code our software, but I do understand how negatively technical issues can impact learning. Thankfully, while I’ve been writing and revising math lessons the past four years, our programmers have been making technical improvements.

End Lesson

So to go back to something I said in the second observation:

She is the perfect example of what Time To Know is meant to do. The teacher taught just like she normally would, she just happened to have the computer as a tool as she did her job.

This really was our philosophy. The curriculum and digital tools were intended to blend into the classroom, assisting the teacher without taking over for her. As you’ve seen if you’ve been following my last few posts, this philosophy had some serious issues when it met reality. The teacher has so much impact on whether the lessons are facilitated successfully or not.

I think this is the crux of the issue I’ve been writing about the past couple of days. Regardless of what materials you put in the hands of a skilled teacher, she has what it takes to make it work and often make it look effortless. Rereading today’s observation, I was surprised to see the “me” from four years ago rattling off similar success factors to the ones I listed on the first day of this series:

It’s not just about knowing the math. This teacher also had great questioning skills, routines, and knowledge of how kids think.

As @Trianglemancsd so succinctly put it, it comes down to one thing:




1 thought on “Seeing Our Curriculum in Action, Part 3

  1. Pingback: Seeing Our Curriculum In Action, Part 4 | Teaching to the Beat of a Different Drummer

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