I work at an incredible private school in Atlanta. Our mission (which includes college-readiness for all students) is bold and I love that our leadership is not only willing to step outside the box to improve education, but they are leading the way in completely breaking the box that holds traditional American education. I was eager to come to this school because of the mission, vision, and mindsets. I knew this was a place that valued both research-based best practices as well as innovative teaching practices. This is discussed in more detail in our (i)Plan 17.
I knew in coming to this school, I would not only be encouraged to move away from traditional math instruction – teacher lectures all class, students sit silently in rows and take notes, homework is 30 drill & kill exercises – it would be the expectation that my class rarely, if ever, looked traditional. This energized me as I had already moved away from traditional teaching in my previous school.
My first year we did the “Poverty Project.” It was 2-3 weeks (I forget which) where students were given time to work on addressing a real world issue in connection with a local organization. The normal schedule was modified to include time for this project. There were definite positives in this project, but also a lot of struggle as we went through this process as a school for the first time. I saw many students quite engaged in the organization we were working with, but I heard that wasn’t the case in many of the other organizations and student groups. This type of group work was difficult for our students, but that’s ok. We often have to struggle at first to truly learn something new, and these are skills our students need to learn.
The next year (last year) we did a more extensive year long Capstone Project, which we shortened internally to TDed for Transdisciplinary Education. 9th & 10th graders had the topic of GMOs while 11th & 12th graders had the topic of Land & Water issues. We used a Design Thinking framework as our guideline for progressing through the year. In November, all teachers included the appropriate topic in their classroom teaching. For example, I taught my data units in November and taught them through the lens of GMO research and articles. In addition, we had various schedules throughout the year that gave students time during the school day to work on these projects. Students were instructed to come up with projects that would “make a dent” in their assigned topic area. We had a week of “unschool” where students grouped up and pitched their projects for approval, a la “Shark Tank.” We ended with year with an Expo where all student groups presented their projects on tri-fold boards set up throughout the school.
For the upcoming year, we are doing something similar, but not identical to last year. It’s being called the (i)Project because we are a school of Innovation, Inquiry, and Impact. Projects will need to be categorized, for the most part, by one of those “I”s. Students will get to choose their topic, so it’s a passion project, and can be in groups of 1-5, meaning they can work individually. I had the privilege of being on the summer team working to plan this year’s project, and I truly love how we have changed the project.
Here’s where conflict & struggle come in for me – Why? Why are we doing this? How do we know this will work? And what does “work” even mean? With the various schedule changes, I will see my students for 51 days in the Fall Semester (not quarter, semester) and 48 days in the Spring Semester. I didn’t count the first 1/2 week of school or Final Exams to get those number of days. And we aren’t on a block schedule that gives us long class times. Some of those classes will be 55 minutes, some 60 minutes. Those few extra minutes aren’t enough to get into new material. I would prefer to meet more often for a 45 or 50 minute class. How on earth will I address my Learning Outcomes when seeing my students on such few occasions? How can I use inquiry in my teaching when I know inquiry takes longer? How will our AP students be successful on their AP tests? How can I do cross disciplinary learning with other content teachers when that takes longer? Where is the research that this works? Hattie’s work has PBL at 0.15 effect size. I know that PBL can have a larger effect size when it’s used not for initial learning, but for deepening learning. That’s all good. But does good PBL have to reduce content time to this degree?
I feel pressured to have to go to a more traditional style of teaching just so I can do my job of math instruction. This isn’t why I came here!
In addition, I’m a new co-chair of our school’s Pre-12 Math R&D Team. I’ve spent the last week pouring over our Alg1-PreCalc Learning Outcomes, comparing to each other and the new SAT topics. How can we reduce our Learning Outcomes so that we still meet the math educational needs of our students & they are prepared for the SAT/ACT, which is part of them being college-ready? Am I qualified to do this?
I just don’t think we have to reduce class time so much to increase engagement or have students involved in projects or to meet our mission. We can do interdisciplinary & cross-disciplinary work just by allowing teachers to do it on their own. I’m so freaked out by this loss of content days that I have no desire to work on lessons with other teachers this year.
To be clear, I want this to all work out phenomenally. I want our students to learn both the content they need and the real world skills of doing projects. They will be reaching out to professionals, collaborating with teachers & other students, presenting their findings – the MV Mind at work!
And so, this is the long-winded reason of why I was asking on Twitter about reducing Algebra 2 Learning Outcomes! The struggle is real people, the struggle is real.