Wednesday, December 21, 2011

25 Days in the Life - Becoming a Teacher

Teacher candidate... student teacher... call it what you want.  It's an experiment in learning and teaching.  I've just finished my first 5 week practical experience, placed in a classroom of middle years learners, mentored by a teacher, advised by a Faculty representative.  Some of my learning in the first 25 days: Tales from the classroom.

1.  A group of complete strangers accepted me and made me part of their lives, quite instantly.
2.  Student response to a research project when I suggested books as a research source (as opposed to internet-only):  "BOOKS ???!!!" in a shocked voice.
3.  Everything can be a fraction -- 25/25 days of teaching, 5/5 weeks of practicum, one (1) practicum finished. Parts of a whole.  Equivalent fractions. 
4.  Math facts are a fact of life. You gotta figure out how to figure out the basics.  I have to figure out how to teach them.
5. A hot classroom gets hotter when 20+ bodies are mingling in the room. A few times I felt like I was melting.
6. I had to quell my own giggles when a student got "busted" for blithely doing something contrary to what had been requested -- and how the student snapped to attention as the footsteps came up behind the desk.
7. Sometimes you just have to move forward and look to the next day or week and try something new.
8. The internet connection generally goes down when you want to use it to illustrate or demonstrate a particular concept.  Be prepared to find another way to teach the information.
9. Families are important. Don't forget the impact of the family.
10. It's an international world in our classrooms.  Exciting to meet students whose origins are from places I thought were exotic when I was a kid. Equally exciting to hear Indigenous students talk about their heritage with pride.
11. Project-based learning rocks! Doing it well is my personal challenge as I move forward.
12. Personalities outside the classroom ... something new to experience every day.
13. Counting pennies is a great way to teach someone about estimation/guessing ... it was an excellent practical way to see how close students came to understanding amounts of money/pennies.
14. Students love being read to. And I love reading ... it's a win/win.  Pace myself.
15. I want to do a novel study.  Or literature circles.
16. "When are we going to do real science?"  This from a student when we were talking about doing a project on nutrients and labeling, part of the Manitoba science curriculum.
17. Smart technology is only as smart as the user.
18. You can integrate art into all facets of teaching.
19. "I just love this!".  The student who loves figuring out how to "do" math.
20. Diversity compels us to teach creatively.  Inclusivity means more than just a body in the room. Doing it is work that requires input from many individuals.
21. Marks matter.  To me (as a student) and to my students.  I want to know how I've done and how they've done.  
22. But, what's important is how I "do" assessment in a way that matters to my teaching and to their learning. For, of, in, about -- it helps me figure out better ways to teach. Assessment is always ongoing.
23. The Tim Tam slam -- bite the ends off a Tim Tam biscuit (an Aussie wonder that is available in Winnipeg, via Superstore, London Drugs).  Dip one end into a cup of coffee, slurp coffee through biscuit, and quickly bring the Tim Tam into your mouth before it disintegrates... quick, it will fall apart fast!
24. I was out of my element when I started.  I was frightened. It became a new and wonderful experience.  Thanks to the students, the classroom teacher, a new teacher in the school, and fellow U of M students -- it became a learning and teaching experience that has re-invigorated me.
25.  I'm going to miss them.  And I want to go back.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


Math... a bogeyman?  Something to be feared?  Something to teach.  When we started this term (which is now winding down to the final 2/5 of the practicum... 15/25 done, that is), I met our Math Ed prof and casually mentioned that I was intrigued by the "math" class.  Math education, I was corrected.  Indeed.  Math ed.  How do you teach math?

Problem-based learning, that is.  And recently a study was published stating that Manitoba ranks below several other provinces in how our students do on certain mathematics and literacy standards tests.  One or two percentage points difference, but it was enough to get some emotional responses from the public.  In my practicum, as we discussed in our math ed class, the range of ability and interest varies.  For some, it's a difficult prospect to think about division.  Multiplication is another challenge, and without understanding grouping of numbers and how they can be re-arranged, you won't figure out division easily.  (I am interested in figuring out to explain this to a group of students ...)  Thanks Thomas Falkenberg, math ed prof., for raising the standard on how we can help our students learn this area.  People, at least some of the parents whose comments aired on radio or in letters to various editors, aren't that thrilled with problem-based learning.  Where are the facts?  Why don't they just memorize a set of numbers?  Well... until you understand how the bits are put together, memorization only exhibits one kind of learning ability.  And in a province that has one of the highest immigration rates in Canada, many classrooms have students from around the world, including some who arrive in the middle of the term, on any given day, with varying abilities in the English language.  So the challenge is to help students figure out the how and why, and also understand new terminology and some abstract concepts in another language.

Taking math to the real world is another challenge, and yesterday Nicole and I entered Chatter's, a chain store that sells "beauty supplies" and is open to the public!  OK, we're on.  She had to buy a $10 gift for a fellow gymnast, for the 'Secret Santa' event which is happening next week.  Understanding the relationships and concepts in numbers is difficult for Missie; however, she knows what she wants to buy for the person whose name she picked. She's clear on fashion and loves to enhance beauty, but figuring out how to spend the money can be a challenge, especially when everything is so beautiful!  So we entered to an immediate "How can I help you"?!  All cheery.  Not listening, though.  I explained our price point, looking for some ideas.  Immediately the "upsell" began.  Oh, you can buy two of these for $9.95 each and get a 3rd for free.  I explain the price point again, and that it might not be fair to other kids at the event if we brought a $20 gift, disregarding the limit.  The interest waned, and off the young lady wandered.  No longer a viable customer, I guess.  Nicole and I added the amounts of some gorgeous nail polish and a cute little foot scrubber -- just under $10.  I explained I would pay for the extra tax that would occur (percentages are still a concept that hasn't registered).  Off to the checkout and the price appeared higher than we'd figured.  Now how can I teach math if prices don't jive?  So I asked yet another attractive store clerk to check the price -- frowning, she points to the sticker on one of the products and assures me it's the amount that is listed.  I mention that the price on the shelf is different.  Really?  With a little put-down in the voice.  Like, why is the lady arguing with ME about the price.  Oops... price is different.  OK, back we go.  It's only $1.00, she says.  Yes, but it's my daughter's dollar, not yours, and we'd just figured out the math (I left the math part out; that would be the ultimate bore), and, and, and.  You will try to make us feel like bad people while you figure out the price difference. So we waited, while the young lady changed everything and gave us the difference.  Math is math, yes.  So is a bad attitude. I mentioned one more time that it's someone else's money, not hers.

I am enjoying the challenging of "teaching" math.  Both to my daughter and to students who are learning it in the classroom.  Math is everywhere, and math can be fun and without a foundation in basic facts and math relationships, the world will be smaller.  But math in the real world might be improved by a little change in attitude.