This year I have made the pledge to make my classroom a student centered one - a classroom where the teacher is the not the focus of delivering content but rather a facilitator enabling the students to discover and make connections to the content. I have decided that I have been teaching for enough years with direct instruction as my primary method of delivering content knowledge to my students. I always worked in activities pretty regularly (once or twice a week) - but often my classroom revolved around direct instruction, notes, and practice. As always, I preface this matter by saying these items are not bad, but they are not great. I am the classic example of that.
I really do not want to repeat my story every article, but it also has bearing on this decision. I was good at math and enjoyed it as I gained years in elementary school. But then I hit 7th grade and for the next 6 years I learned to hate math and hate learning math. Sure I was good at it, but it was incredibly boring and seemingly pointless. Not one teacher in 6 years made it fun or showed it be worthwhile. By my last two years of high school I was so over it that I left my honors/AP track and went down to a lower track of math and failed my first class ever in school by refusing to do homework or take notes in class. I was so sick of taking notes and doing boring homework.
It is these memories that resounded in my head when I decided to become a math teacher. I could be different. I could make it better for my students. I could help them actually experience math and bring math engagement to students like I never experienced.
All good thoughts, but then I became a math teacher and while I was trying to figure out how to maintain classroom management in my first couple years of teaching I lost track of my goals and settled back to teaching math the way I knew how - the way I learned it. As I got bored doing this over the first five years I would create engaging activities that would help me feel less guilty about spending most of my time direct instructing in notes. This is where MakeMathMore.com came from and I still love all the lessons here and will continue to use them during my student centered year. But in the end I needed to do more - I promised to myself I would do more.
And so here I am officially taking the plunge into student centered problem solving and discovery learning. I grabbed the book Teaching Student-Centered Mathematics: Grades 5-8
and got to reading. The book is actually really good and I highly recommend it. There are only about 20-30 pages talking about the student-centered theory and how to execute it in your classroom, but the rest of the book is full of concepts with examples and suggestions on how the authors would suggest teaching various concepts in a student-centered manner rather than teacher centered.
My biggest fear when putting the student centered approach into practice was if students would actually learn things. If I rely on them discovering everything then aren't they going to miss things that I would naturally teach them and emphasize? Once I started though I quickly realized that you end each lesson or mini lesson with a discussion of what students discovered and what they should have discovered. Many students will not get all the way to where you want them to, but by discussing at the end you connect the dots and the best part is you have more students with a foundation and investment in learning when other students and myself talk.
I will end with this example. I was having my students model the subtraction of integers in an attempt to discover the rule that subtracting is the same thing as adding the opposite of the second number. They were bringing in zero pairs and taking away. Several students across the class discovered that after they take away they are left with two sets of counters that they can add together to which many told me as I walked around "so when we subtract we are basically adding." I did not tell them this or show them this. No one came up with the whole "add the opposite rule" - maybe they would have with more time. But as we discussed it as a class many understood that we were basically adding and then as a class we filled in that the second number is changing sign to it's opposite. They built a foundation themselves for us to build on - that would not have happened with standard direct instruction.
I encourage all teachers to consider the student centered approach. Read about it, investigate it, and try it. I am truly having one of my best years as my students are trying much more math on their own then they are copying down from me. And that is what a math class should be - students working on and discovering how to solve problems.
Check out the book and let me know if you have any questions. Take Care.