Future Plans?

I had lunch with my parents today. They are particularly more conservative than I am, but I find that as I grow older I can I respect their opinions and perspectives (though I often do not agree with a lot of them!). They talk about the election, how one guy is untrustworthy for this reason and why the other guy is the best candidate for that reason…very strong opinions from people with a very different outlook on life. When when my dad asked me about my 5-year plan for the iPads in my classroom, I had to say I was taken by surprise. I was surprised because it’s not often my parents think in terms of technology. On top of that, the conversation with the two of them carried more weight than I expected too. My parents learned quick how to push their career in the best direction through careful steps and planning. So when my dad asked me about my plan for the iPads, I was very interested to hear what led him to ask the question.

Here is the iPad story (as it relates directly to me) so far: In developing this pilot program where iPads are the focus, my plan didn’t really go beyond year one. I simply wanted to get the devices in the classroom, use some applications that I believed would increase engagement among students, and to allow for some differentiation for those kids who wanted to move fast (and for those who needed to slow down). I thought that the tool would do a lot of the work. BOY, WAS I WRONG! But I have compensated this misunderstanding with a broader approach to my curriculum and by listening to my students. They are 6th graders, but they have great opinions and experiences concerning technology. I have learned to adapt to a situation where I was not as “technologically prepared” as I would have liked to be. So, to this point, I have covered my goals pretty well.

Today my dad opened up my thoughts to something more (as he usually does). He wanted to know how I would further develop the original plan I made. His comment was, “If someone in administration asked you about what you have accomplished with the iPads, what would you say? And what if they asked you about what you did not accomplish? What then?" The first question I could answer without hesitation; as I stated before: engagement, differentiation, plus an (almost) paperless environment. However, I have come to realize that there is so much more than what I have accomplished. I need to start thinking about the next step.

I realized that one of the most dynamic ideas I had when I originally thought about using iPads was the self-paced classroom. While this is happening in a basic format, I can go much, much further. For instance, kids are able to move through the daily material at their own pace. This is great, because I don’t have to wait for every student in the class to finish one activity before moving on to the next. But I could have done that before using iPads…it just became easier to do so. But this weekend, as I reflect on the big picture, there is another step that I will begin to work on little by little (though I may not implement the plan until next school year). I would like to do this is with "checkpoint learning.” As a math teacher, I have been given the task to teach concepts that will prepare students for the next level of difficulty in the classroom (or the next year’s course, in most cases). This is a limitation that I will not be able to change without systemic adjustments to our curriculum. However, the overall pace of learning when it comes to concepts presented should be up to the student, not constrained by me. I do this in daily instruction, and this individualized pace is available for a student who wants to move through the week as well (because our assignments are online). However, why should I limit them to one-week’s worth of material?

I have been thinking of ways to allow “free learning” of math concepts in the classroom. I would like to try inquiry-based learning with checkpoints throughout the week and long term goals a few times a month for students. I could ask bigger picture questions and expect students to take 2 weeks to find the answers. I could create “gateways” that students will need to reach by a certain time, all leading towards a central hub that would be an assessment. I’m thinking of a star map where one planet teaches one concept, and a student could choose to go to that planet, learn all there is to know about that concept, and then move on to the next. The mindset is kind of like a video game. There could be some sort of overall “countdown to invasion” where the students are assessed on the material (let’s say, the concepts taken from a group of planets at one time) when the time runs out. This effort would mean I would need to have multiple tests ready for the students to take should they all choose different “groups of planets.” I don’t think it would be very hard, but imagine the self-guided instruction, and the interactivity that would develop after just one “invasion.”

Student A: “Has anyone gone through the fractions unit yet? I’m having trouble with least common denominators.”

Student B: “I did that work last week…I had trouble with solving equations, but I got everything else. I can help you with the LCD, but can you help me with converting fractions to decimals? I can’t quite seem to figure it out.”

Sounds pretty interesting to me: students in the same classroom completing entirely different concepts based on what they want to choose. Granted, many will choose the same concept because that makes it “safe” when another student is along for the ride. So I may have to make some “maximum occupancy” rules. But to have students self-direct their learning, even within the confines of the material that I must present during the year, will be an exciting journey.

Thanks, Mom and Dad.

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