Radical Revamp … in Small Increments

From the original image Pupae by Moonrhino  Quote by John Seely Brown, as seen in the 21st Century Learner video on YouTube.

Embracing Change posted by Keri-Lee Beasley; From the original image Pupae by Moonrhino Quote by John Seely Brown, as seen in the 21st Century Learner video on YouTube.

As this school year and my COETAIL course comes to an end, I have begun the task of setting my “Summer Reflections and Actions List” … you know what I mean … that list of educationally-focused tasks that, in an ideal, perfect world, I will diligently work through over the summer.  In my dream scenario, before reality takes over, I begin with honest reflection on my current practices, identifying what has worked and more importantly what has not worked this school year.  After careful consideration and copious research (remember … dream scenario) I want to devise changes for improving the classroom experience for my students, refining what has worked and completely revamping what has not.  (Please note that I did not say “for improving my teaching” as I hope to move steadily toward a more student-centered educational experience.)  Having thoughtfully and thoroughly worked through the list, blogged about my reflections (a nod to you Jeff), and updated current lesson plans to accommodate my new direction, I hope my teaching next year will be vastly improved, … and since I am still in my dream scenario … the sense of being constantly behind will be a distant memory, and I will leave work at a reasonable time everyday knowing that I am fully prepared for every eventuality that could occur …EVER.  And, of course, my students, after a few hours of exposure to my new direction and outlook, combined with my calm nature, will be transformed into independent learners, with strong critical thinking skills … they will become effective collaborators and clear communicators … they will, of course, perfectly model our core school values of respect, responsibility, honesty and kindness … they will be held up as role models to be emulated by others, they will bring about world peace and an end to poverty … and when asked the reason for their radical transformation, the students will smile a knowing smile and say “Ms. Connor” …  Ahhhhh!!

Oops … sorry!  I think my dream scenario went a little too far!  Let’s get back to reality.

Seriously though, I hope to spend some time this summer reevaluating my current teaching practices and choosing a few small, yet significant areas of change to implement for next year.

Realizing that this may change in the coming weeks, I currently have three key areas that I want to consider.

  1. I want to design a new homework system that will motivate and reward students rather than discourage and punish.  A system where positive reinforcement in the form of individual and class rewards can be worked towards.  (Unless Loren manages to finish his Gamification homework plan before he graduates, then I will just test out his plan.)

    The Joys of Homework by Cayusa

    At the end of last school year, a colleague and I were contemplating new ways to assign and grade homework.  We wanted to make it meaningful, efficient and authentic.  But after some discussion, we decided that there was no perfect way, and perhaps not even a “better” way to check that students were completing their homework in a manner that would enhance their understanding of the topic.  So this year I continued with my same old approach.  In all its’ unimaginative glory, here it is:  At the beginning of the year I use class time to carefully check homework for completion.  Student’s work is examined for evidence that every question is attempted and that work is shown.  Part of homework is to check the answers with the aid of the back of the book so  students can ask questions of me or a peer (preferably before class) for all those problems that they could not solve correctly.  Corrections are then done in a different color as a visual reminder of concepts to be aware of in the future.  Having used significant class time early in the year to establish my expectations, I then turn the task of grading homework over to the students and have them do peer grading of the homework at the beginning of class.  With that inauspicious starting point, there has to be a way to improve the process and the expectations.  Gamification seems like it could help, so I am going to start the reflection and research there.

  2. I want to identify one key concept/unit/topic that can be taught using the flipped classroom model.  Once that topic is determined, I need to begin to plan the unit and hopefully record some of the lessons.  Currently I think that Vectors from the IB Higher Level Math curriculum might be suitable to be presented in this manner.


  1. I want to develop a plan for how I can use the Harkness Method of teaching to enhance the effectiveness of the problem-solving portion of each lesson.  (Coupling this with a reward plan might be investigated in the future, but I need to think the process and consequences through first.)  How can I use the challenging problems tackled during class to encourage collaboration and communication of solid mathematical processes, and make it student-centered?  The vague outline that I want to reflect on and develop involves blocking out set portions of time during all (or maybe just some) classes to have students present solutions to difficult problems, whether from the class notes or from the homework and then have them discuss alternate problem-solving strategies or more elegant approaches.  The idea would be to analyze each person’s work through open and judgment-free discussions, providing a safe place for students to ask questions.  A key to making this work is going to be identifying problems that can be solved by numerous methods as well as having questions that require the synthesis of multiple skills and strategies.  But as I said, this all needs to be thought through more carefully to make it a truly positive experience and to optimize the chances of it succeeding.  My original thoughts were that this would be diametrically opposed to the flipped classroom model, but now I am not so sure … something to think on further.
At The College Preparatory School

Students and instructor seated around a Harkness table

This time next year I want to look back and see significant changes in the experience students have in my classroom.  I don’t want to feel that it was one more year of doing the same thing.  I know that my current teaching practices meet the needs of some students, but there is always room for improvement if I am willing to step out of my comfort zone.  Some of the changes may fail miserably, but at least that will give me a new starting point for my “Summer Reflections and Actions List” next year.  So, armed with my new tech skills, a lot of reading and contemplation, I hope to walk boldly into next year.

Now, if I can just follow through on this brilliant summer plan and not get distracted by the thought of sitting under a palm tree, looking out over crystal blue water, and reading a book for the whole summer!

Beach, Nilandho, Faafu Atoll, Maldives. By Shazwan

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2 Responses to “Radical Revamp … in Small Increments”

  • Comment from Forrest

    Makes me smile to think of all of the things that one wants to get done in a summer and those which actually do. It sounds like a pretty good list. Watching you spend so much time and effort with your significant successes here, I wouldn’t worry about being “student centered”. You have a system that does work really well. I guess I like your goals as they seem realistic and interesting. Try a lesson using a different style, Experiment with different homework methods. I don’t know the answer to that one either. I try to ask my students to try all of the homework and not punish them for not getting wrong answers but many of then then try a little and then stop. Dunno. Good luck this summer. Nice blog.

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