I recently visited several schools in Florida to observe Spring Board in action. I was impressed with the curriculum, but beyond that I was impressed with the level of engagement of the students. Students and teachers utilized some great strategies in the classroom. I was also very impressed with the consistency among the schools across the district. Every classroom I visited had an active vocabulary wall. I have never been successful with vocabulary walls. I would try and hang words on the wall, but I never did anything else with them. This changed my mind.
(These cards are attached to a ribbon and have the definition on one side and word on the other)
All teacher are required to have academic vocabulary (Tier 3) posted on the wall. Every teacher has a unique twist to their word wall. The definition is always included and students are encouraged to get up and use the wall during class if they need to refresh their memory. One teacher even moved words to the “Mastered” wall after the class demonstrated a thorough knowledge and understanding of the word. The teachers would cycle the words according to the unit of study. I absolutely loved that the words had the definitions hidden, but accessible to students. If I was still in the classroom, I would find space for this on my wall.
Math teachers love algorithms. I think one of the reasons I love math so much is that there are rules to follow. I know that says a lot about my personality. When I was in the classroom, my students would say, “Just show me how to do it.” I also heard, “I can follow the steps and get the right answer, but I have no idea what I am doing.” Unfortunately, I could relate to these students. Much of my math career as a student was like this. It was only when I began to teach it that I truly understood the whys and hows of math. I think this is one thing Common Core will fix for students. They may hate it and resist it at the beginning, but they will retain it.
When I was in the classroom, I was guilty of reducing mathematics to an algorithm. I taught cute tricks like “Outers over Inners” to simplify complex fractions. I think all teachers are guilty of this at some point. I came across this video in an elementary classroom that testified to this:
The teacher was teaching students how to multiply a two digit number by a two digit number. I had heard from several teachers how great this “new” method was for students. It is so cute! I had to bite my tongue. If you watch the video, my questions are “Why does the turtle drop an egg?” and “Why do we draw a collar on the turtle?” I need students to understand this. What happens if I have a three digit times a two digit? Does turtle multiplication still work? I need conceptual understanding that transcends to problems of varying types.
Here is how I would love to see multiplication by two digit numbers taught:
What are your thoughts? Are we hurting students by teaching cute algorithms in isolation? Is procedure really what matters? What other “tricks” do we teach that hinder conceptual understanding?