My journey in innovative learning has been a period of exploration, and of trial and error. It began when I moved to northern California to be closer to family, and found myself at a new technology middle school. I was excited by all the offerings available for the students to use in the classroom, but I did not have enough training to implement them, and wasn’t sure how best to use these new resources. A friend mentioned the program, and thought it was just what I needed to give my students that technological edge, and to help them develop 21st century skills.
Since entering the program, my knowledge of Google Docs, sheets, slides, and forms has grown, so my students can now present their work using any of these methods. We use the NTN ECHO as a learning management system, and the students can upload their work into the system. This is very useful, as we are no longer carrying crates of papers home with us. I have used ted.ed.com and nearpod.com to flip lessons, and have also found movenote.com and swivl.com to be tools that I am likely to use repeatedly.
I heard about the flipped classroom/blended classroom design just shortly after entering the program, and experimented by offering a few flipped lessons. I was intrigued and inspired, and that adventure spurred me into focusing my action research on combining flipped classroom with inductive/active teaching strategies.
The literature and my data brought further understanding and adjustments, and the concept seems worthy of further investigation on a larger scale, as we want the students to be more engaged and have increased performance. I did a t-test on my pre/post test scores, with an increase of almost 30% in their mean scores. The results of the t-test showed this improvement was extremely significant statistically, with a p-value of .00001.
One area of concern in my math department is that in math, 64% of our students enter the classroom below proficiency. They start out behind, and suffer from gaps in their learning. My department decided to use Khan Academy, and as we entered the 2016 Learnstorm, our school was very excited by our placement on the leaderboards. My students can learn at their own pace, and have 24/7 access to the site. They are proud of their successes, and we are hoping to increase or maintain them. Nothing makes me prouder than seeing students motivated in math, and finding success at their own pace. This is the power that technology has to offer them.
I have been a traditional teacher for 20 years, and these changes reignited my passion for teaching. It is all new and different, but my students are learning more in less time. I had not conducted a project in math, as most of the math departments of my past were very traditional, and the statement that “we don’t have time” was commonly heard across many arenas of teaching.
By flipping my classroom, it freed some class time to do the unit project, which was cross-curricular with science (including an emphasis on college and career readiness). My students were able to research, collaborate, and present their information, and they found this to be a fun and engaging experience. It also helped them understand that math is the foundation to many STEM careers and majors. I did a student survey of the project, and students reported that they enjoyed it for these reasons:
1. It motivated them to learn math while connecting them to career possibilities that they were not aware of
2. They found the peer-collaboration/peer-instruction to be useful and enjoyable
3. The project gave them a voice (in their presentations) and a choice (of questions) in how to present their information
Technology is changing, and learning new ways to integrate it into my classroom and increase engagement and performance is aligned with the TPACK model, Napa Learns, and my school district and site. This is where my motivation to continue to learn stems from, but also from the success of my students, and the hope to continue finding new ways to help them learn and achieve.
Another area of passion and interest is in gamification, although I have not yet had a chance to explore it as much as I would like to. I believe learning should be fun, and in the traditional model I used various games to help make learning math enjoyable.
Children these days spend a lot time gaming and using social media, so it stands to reason that if we could make math video games more like the ones that keep them from doing their homework, maybe they would do their work and have a blast learning too!I would like to look more deeply into technology-based math games that could be integrated into the common core mathematics curriculum at the middle school level.
My undergraduate degree (from 1995) is in psychology, and I find the latest research fascinating as it pertains to how we learn and create long-term memory by encouraging stronger connections in the brain. It is important to use the different parts of the brain to learn, combined with active-learning strategies.
We use one part of the mind to see, another to speak, another to write, and yet another to think and create. If I introduce a topic to my math students, I want them to see it, then I want them to speak it using the academic vocabulary. I want them to hear it, then write it, and then think and create. When students use more areas of their brains as a result of active learning strategies, it results in more neural connections being created, and a greater likelihood of forming the long-term memories so vital to learning mathematics.
If I were to continue my education, it would be to pursue a Ph.D. in education. I would work to improve the teaching of mathematics to help students develop those neural connections, which might then be further built upon instead of so many students hitting the wall.
Research has shown that passing Algebra II (or higher) is the strongest predictor of a student obtaining a four-year degree in any field: the higher the math taken in high school, the greater the likelihood of obtaining the degree. This statistic explains why there was a push just a few years ago for all students to pass algebra in the 8th grade.
In recent years we have drifted from this goal, possibly because math was taught with too much content, and without fostering the strong brain connections for long-term learning. But the predictor remains valid, and achieving it is still vitally important. It makes sense that the focus should now shift to incorporating current brain research into how we teach math, thus increasing the success of a greater number of students.
The author is a proud mother and wife, living in Sonoma, Ca. She has 21 years teaching mathematics. She loves technology and how it enhances student learning, engagement, and achievement.