How will this year be any different? After looking over the modules, my first thoughts were, “How am I going to get my students to start thinking like this, asking the right questions and developing ideas on their own?” I have tried so many times before and faced the same resistance from my students over and over.
That is where my journey began. I need to get each one of them to start thinking like a mathematician, regardless of what their past experiences have been. I started trying to make sense of the modules and discover how to make them work for my students. Let me be clear - this included a great deal of frustration!
I realized that in order to make this work and to get my students to become strong problem solvers and critical thinkers, I would have to get to know each student’s set of background knowledge and comfort level with previous concepts learned. The modules then became a vehicle for making this happen.
Once I started to get to know my students’ strengths and weaknesses, the modules helped serve as a guide to lead them through new discoveries. Along with the support of a team of Algebra teachers in my district, we have begun to make the modules work for my classroom. Without having other colleagues to share ideas, struggles, and successes, it would have been a very different situation.
To help all of my students to be successful, I have also used some of my own strategies. I realized the modules are not dictating what I do. I am ‘chunking’ some of the material so my students can be exposed to smaller amounts of information and then begin to put the pieces together in a manageable fashion. I also found I do not have to use every problem for every student and that there may be other materials or problems that I will have to use for those students who need to build background skills or knowledge.
Transformations are starting to take place in my classes. I am doing more teaching about how to learn and discover rather than how to memorize and follow steps. Students have started asking questions like “why” and “how” rather than what step comes next. They are not as afraid of “strange looking problems” as they were when the year began! Together we are learning.
Good teaching is good teaching no matter what curriculum materials are being used. The modules have provided me a structure for teaching the standards and it has been up to me to make them fit for my students. While there is a great deal of work that still needs to be done this year, we are off to a great start!
Lori LaRocco is an Algebra Teacher in the Webster School District in Upstate New York. This is her first year using the modules on EngageNY.org. See her colleague Toni Lynn Swinson’s post at http://www.engageny.org/content/creating-problem-solvers.