I am 8 weeks into Remote Teaching this year. I have to admit it has been an adventure…
I have heard many people say this and I have to admit, it feels like the first year of teaching (and since my first year of teaching was not that far back, that is saying something!).
As daunting as this task seemed a few months ago, I was also kind of excited. I felt like this is the year I can change things, because everything was changing anyway…
The more I thought about planning for this year, the more I reflected on what had not been working for me in the past and how I could change that.
I strongly believe that every student, every person is a math person but I always get a lot of push back about it. Last year I realized I have to convince not just the students that they are mathematicians but also their parents. The other part was to convince my students that math is beautiful and logical and so very useful. This article on abakcus.com helped me find words for my thoughts.
What I figured out was that I need to work on changing mindsets, of students and adults. I had to show them the beauty of math and its usefulness, I had to show each and every one of my students that they are mathematicians and to help them experience what a mathematician does. I had to do all of this while teaching them remotely, getting to know them and hopefully while teaching them the curriculum as well… a daunting task.
I usually spend the first 3-4 weeks of school on community building. The only difference this time was to translate some of my usual activities online or find new activities which would get at the same thing. My objective for this first month is to get to know the kids, have them get to know each other, build a classroom community of learners and to show them that math can be fun, logical, have multiple paths to the same or different answers…
As usual, I relied heavily on my ever helpful colleagues and the amazing MtBos community. I could not have made it through these crazy times without these pillars of support.
Here is a list of activities I did to help set up my community of learners. Please feel free to suggest, modify or ignore this list:
1. Name tents : This is one my favorite first week activities, It takes a few minutes everyday but I get to learn a lot from the responses my kids give. I adapted the desmos version that Sara VanDerWerf has, changed the prompts to things I wanted the kid to answer and made sure I gave each student some feedback for the next day.
2. Google Calendar birthday invite: I wanted students to get used to using google calendar. To that end, I had all of them send me an invite to an event on their birthdays. Now, not only do they know how to set up the events but I know all their birthdays
3. Getting to know some Mathematicians: I got this idea from Howie Hua and adapted into google slides where each student upload their picture into a frame which says ‘I am a mathematician’. They not only write about themselves but also comment on each other’s slides, which helps them get to know each other..
4. Quick math conversations: This was a math twist on speed dating (again thanks to Howie Hua). I would highly recommend this activity for anyone trying to get the kids talk in breakout rooms.
5. Ultimate tic tac toe: A highly strategic game in which students can get competitive really quickly. Once they figure out the consequences of their moves, they have to really think about each step.
6. 20 words/phrases: In this activity, I asked students to list words/phrases which come to their mind when they think of a math class. Then we striked out and replaced the words/phrases we did not want associated with our classroom. This showed me not only what their experience had been but also what they are most worried about. This is another gem I adapted from Howie Hua.
Alongside these basic activities, I added in some logical math problems from my WarmUp folder. I have not collected them over the years from other teachers, different websites, brilliant.org, etc.
My students work on these problems individually but then we share all the different strategies they used to come up with answers. I do not tell them the right answer till everyone has had a chance to share their strategy. I believe this helps them see that it is ok to make mistakes and explaining their thinking helps them learn.
All of these little things, little activities, feedback loops and moments of connections are now paying dividends. Most of my students now look forward to sharing their strategies with their peers. They are not afraid to admit or point out a mistake respectfully, most importantly, they like to explore math for exploration sake.
Very recently, while reviewing rules of exponents, we came to zero exponent rule. One of the students asked me why is that true. I used the ‘catch and release’ technique and posed the question back to the class. Very soon, the entire class was involved in a discussion about it. In 20 min, they were able to prove the rule and I could not have been prouder.
These small moments of victories are what keeps me going and makes me smile. I hope all the educators out there gets to experience the same joy!