## Sunday, October 6, 2013

### Explore #MTBoS - What Makes It My Classroom

This is an interesting question. For Exploring the Math-Twitter-Blog-o-Sphere, we had two choices for Mission 1:
• What makes my classroom mine?
• What's one of my most open-ended or rich problems?
I try to write about my open ended and/or rich problems all the time.  The knots come to mind, the creative patterns lesson, a lesson that uses GeoGebra well, like the GGB Quadratics, or one of the games I love, such as Decimal Point Pickle. There's a dead simple triangle area lesson that has untold riches I should write up and I could do for this...

But the first question is the kind of reflection I only do if pushed.

<nudge>

It could be planning. Because I teach at a university, I have the priviledge and responsibility to plan each lesson, with time for revision and lots of original lessons. I try to share freely with colleagues and they give me feedback that there's a certain style that those have, and they seem to be able to guess which ones are mine. Of course, the style is probably just being goofy.

So it could be that I'm a goofball. I look in some respects like a serious, big, old guy, but wearing shorts, sandals and any funny math shirt I can get a hold of.  My first teaching emulation was David Letterman when I was a lecturer, and there are still traces of that. I use comics whenever possible, and it's a rare day that doesn't have at least one on an activity. I am encourage jokes and funny outbursts from students - it's not a raise-your-hand kind of classroom.

It could be technology. I have a Bring Your Own Device classroom and computer days where we look at math using free and open source tools like Desmos or GeoGebra or Wolfram|Alpha. I use Facebook and Google docs instead of Blackboard. I support students in using tech to capture and document their math and demonstrate it in the classroom. I read blogs with interest and use and adapt the ideas in my classroom; I make some of those posts required reading instead of stuffy journal articles for my preservice teachers. I do everything I can to encourage their blogging and use of twitter.

But I think what is essential, what is increasing more and more, and what represents what I hope to be as a teacher, is choice. The deeper I get into trusting students, and transferring responsibility to them, the more choice I give them. In class time, and certainly at home. In a pure content class, where the assessments are all about mastery of math skills and ideas, this means the choice of how to practice skills and apply ideas are up to them. Projects move from investigating my question to investigating their own. In teacher preparation classes, this semester I'm leaving everything up to them.

 The always edgy Frog Applause

I give suggestions for homework and many take those, but they also in great percentage are choosing things of which I never would have thought. They are doing much more finding math in the world around them than I would have imagined. Doing more voluntary reading of good math ed articles. And definitely more creative work, though it's hard to think how to quantify it.  Students are uncomfortable with it, and frequently ask, "but what do you want?"  It feels like they're leaning away from that now.

This extends to assessments, where I provide more problems than needed, and they chooose their problems. Combined with Standards Based Grading, and they're choosing which standards they're trying to demonstrate, too. I often feel like our goals are just talk to students until it's connected to assessment. For more creative work, the choice in assessment comes from choosing exemplars of what constitutes their best work.
 thischarmingcharlie.tumblr.com

This goes against what Dan Ariely says about choice architecture. But I don't want to direct them here, I really want them to know freedom.

You can wander through the preservice elementary teachers' blogs for proof, if you're interested. No way would I have assigned some of that stuff. But it's theirs and they own it. More than in the past, anyway.