I am continually trying to infuse “My Prairie Spirit Classroom” (MPSC) in my classroom as I continue to provide the best educational experience possible for my students. MPSC provides a framework for how we learn, as well as how we facilitate learning. The “classroom” in MPSC refers to any gathering of students, adults or combination of students and adults who are meeting to learn. One of my professional goals is to work on teaching mathematics with big ideas and essential questions.
A learning community has been formed with other teachers who are working on the same goal of integrating big ideas in to their teaching. This learning community gives us an opportunity to collaborate, discuss, share and support one another throughout this learning journey.
Our first meeting was earlier this month and we started to peruse through some resources that may help us on our journey. I came across the book Solving 25 Problems in Unit Design by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins and started reading it to learn how I can better plan my units in mathematics with big ideas in mind. As I read it I was constantly reflecting on lessons and units that I have taught, am currently teaching and about to teach. McTighe and Wiggins discuss nine problems with unit goals that educators may come across in their unit design and I am writing about the first two problems and will continue to write about my reflections of the remaining seven over the next month.
Problem #1: The Unit is overly activity oriented.
Two questions that I continually asked myself prior to reading McTighe and Wiggins were first, are my units engaging? And second, do they engage students in the topics and concepts being uncovered? As teachers we can get caught up in the engagement of the lesson believing we have accomplished the goal of the lesson yet may have not at all. Kids are engaged and the lesson is “hands on” yet it is not purposeful or as McTighe and Wiggins state “minds-on”. I have planned, taught ad observed lessons that have been very hands on and busy with no clear purpose but yet we deemed them “engaging”. To eliminate this busy work happening in my classroom I now ask my students questions about the activities we do in class to see if the “juice is worth the squeeze” (McTighe & Wiggins, 2015). Can they describe the key learning goals or are they completing the activities with no clear purpose? If it’s the later then I need to rethink the purpose of the lesson, change the activity or ensure I clearly explain the purpose of the activity to my students.
I started writing the goal of the lesson or series of lessons on the whiteboard towards the end of last school year to share the goal with my students making it visible with the ability to revisit it throughout the lesson(s). Although I wrote it nicely on the board and mentioned it at the start of the lesson, I know if I had asked them what the purpose of the lesson was they would not be able to tell me. I now have a clear purpose for writing and explaining the purpose of the activity. The case of changing what I was doing to “minds on” instead of “hands on”.
Problem #2: The Unit is coverage oriented
More often than not teachers feel the pressure to cover the content in their respected subjects/grades to reach all outcomes in order for students to write the test, complete the class and be ready for the next grade/level. As we march through the content we forget to provide students with the opportunities to interact with the content. Students must be given time to actively make meaning of the material through questions, investigations, discussions or applications. I have fallen into the trap of covering content with small amount of time to important things mentioned above and I am sure I will continue to stumble in this area unintentionally (not that it makes it any better). I often have a tough time stopping a class that is engaged in the learning to give students that opportunity to process the information, reflect on their learning and share with their peers. I feel that I am taking away from the students learning opportunity but I need to reframe it from “taking away” to “giving students a chance” to truly uncover the material being taught.
McTighe and Wiggins talk about planning a unit around a recurring essential question which will help me go from covering too much to uncovering concepts around an essential question to focus the learning (I will talk more about this in my next post on essential questions).
I will write my reflections of the remaining seven problems with unit goals over the next couple months.
Mr. " BIG IDEAS" Williams