November in June

Today marks the first day of CAMT 2015 (The Conference for the Advancement of Mathematics Teaching). If you’ve never heard of CAMT, then it means you probably don’t live in Texas. We’re such a large state, we have our own NCTM-like conference every summer.

The keynote I attended this morning – there were two going on simultaneously – was given by a guy named Alan November. I had never heard of him before today, but I’m happy I know who he is now.

His speech had two primary themes and both resonated with me. The first is that we should focus on moving beyond the classroom walls towards building networks. He gave the example of a first grade teacher named Ms. Cassidy. She not only has a blog, but she also has a Twitter account. Using social media, her class has connected with other classes from around the globe, and they share their learning with one another. 

One of the ways they do this is through  Math Talk Grade 1 (#mtgr1). Problems are posed to the hashtag, and the students tweet out their solutions through the teacher’s account. In some ways this isn’t special at all. Everyday in classrooms across the country teachers pose problems and students solve them. The difference? An audience! Students are able to see how students from all over the world solved the exact same problem! How cool do you think it is for a class of 7-year-olds to browse through answers from students in Canada? How much cooler is it for them to discover they have a different, possibly better, answer than a student in Italy?

Does this spark your curiosity? Want to try this out for yourself? You’re in luck! You can join the Global Math Task Twitter Exchange taking place during the 2015-16 school year. They’re looking for folks in grades K-12, so if you teach one of those grades, sign up on the Google doc linked on the site and enjoy! If you’re in grades K-5, tweet out to #ElemMathChat from time to time to raise awareness of this exciting opportunity.

The other theme from this morning’s keynote was the importance of students’ voices. It basically comes down to this, teachers, as experts in their field, know too much to fully understand the perspective of students learning the content for the first time. This is known as the curse of knowledge. But students? They can totally relate to one another since they’re all in about the same place educationally. And it just so happens that kids like to talk to one another.

How does this relate to education? One way is by having students create videos for each other explaining concepts, strategies, ideas, etc. Alan gave the example of a class where students were given the choice of creating a tutorial video for homework or the students could do a typical homework worksheet with 10 or so problems.

He shared the story of one student who chose to create a video which turned out to be only about 3 minutes long. When asked how long it took to make the video, the student said 3 hours! The student knew the regular homework assignment would have only taken 10-15 minutes to complete. Her reasoning for doing the video? Homework doesn’t help anybody. The teacher already knows the answers. She made the video instead because it would help her friends.

Alan also shared part of a keynote speech given by Shilpa Yarlagadda. She realized she only had access to her teachers during the school day. At night her resources were her boring textbook or videos made by adults who drone on and on for 10-15 minutes. Her solution? Create her own videos and share them on YouTube. What makes her work special is that in addition to sharing content, she was able to use stories to make it relatable to other kids.

It turns out there are lots and lots of student-created videos out there. One place to find them is Mathtrain.TV. Now, just because students are making their own videos, don’t think that the teacher can just sit back and do nothing. In fact, the role of the teacher becomes Editor-in-Chief. Unsurprisingly, kids make mistakes in their videos all the time, and without guidance their movies can frankly suck. Just because they can relate to their peers doesn’t mean they know how to produce engaging, accurate videos. They need the support of their teachers to point out mistakes and help them learn how to revise their work, similar to how teachers already support students when writing stories.

As a blogger and tweeter for nearly three years, I see the advantages social media and networking have had for me professionally, and I’m excited that more and more school districts are opening up these tools to students and teachers to use in their learning and work. They provide authentic audiences and leverage the ability of students to relate to one another on their own level.

One thought on “November in June

  1. Pingback: Go Big or Go Home: Math Rocks Day 2 | Teaching to the Beat of a Different Drummer

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