When I work to create meaningful experiences for my students, I need to think about how the students learn best. I use the information that I have at my fingertips to make this determination. Part of this information comes from when I was in school and how I learned. Some information comes from those many classes that I took about how to teach in undergrad. However, the majority of my information comes from the experiences that I have had in the classroom.
My students learn the most when they have the opportunity to create meaning about the topic that we are discussing. When students simply read information out of a textbook, they do not absorb the information and they do not recall the information well. However, when students have the opportunity to explore and experience something that they can reference back to they will create a better understanding of that topic. For example, when we work on the idea of physical and chemical properties my students struggle to recognize what potential chemical properties are. They know that a powder might be white and liquids have different viscosities but the idea of a chemical property of flammability is difficult for them. They need to actually test or be prompted to test for that property. They know what it means for something to be flammable, but they are unsure what other properties are. When I create the opportunity for my students to test different chemical properties of specific chemicals they create a better understanding of that concept. Yes, this means a lot more work for me, because I have to plan and prep the experience and then allow the chaos that comes with a lab experience. However, the payoff for this type of opportunity is much greater than the opportunities where students sit back and passively read from a textbook.
From my experience, my students also learn best when the teaching is well structured. This was true for me when I was in undergrad. I had one professor that had very structured notes. He needed to be that way! We were working on writing proofs. (These were not the proofs that most write in high school geometry with two columns where one side showed the work and the other side was the theory/lemma that you were using. These were proofs that were composed like paragraphs and had lots of specific notation that was not friendly to the average reader.) He had very detailed notes that would explain how to compose the argument and how to use the notations that were specific to that problem. He made sure to define any new terminology that we needed for the homework and made specific reference to textbook pages where we could see additional examples. I did well in this class and found myself actually enjoying writing these proofs. Things changed the following semester. I took numerical analysis. (For those of you that don’t know about that class, it is where you write proofs for theorems that you use in calculus – summary… LOTS OF WORK!) My professor was not so good about composing notes and structuring them so that they were useful. Instead, these notes were very scattered and jumped around in thoughts. I would go home and would be lost trying to remember what we had discussed the previous day. This was the course that made me reconsider my math major. From these two experiences, I have realized the importance of modeling appropriate note taking skills. When I create experiences for my students, I work to create a note taking structure that will be easy to follow both in class and when the student arrives home. Mostly this is to help middle school students prepare for high school (my ultimate goal) but also because if the notes are well structured, the parents that are looking them over should be able to follow along with them even if they are “Not good at math!”
Finally, I also believe that learning does not occur in a vacuum. Students need to interact with each other and have opportunities to discuss and create meaning about a topic. I’ve learned this from my experiences as a professional learner. When I go to a workshop on my own and do not know someone else there, I am very likely to be an observer of the learning. I struggle to interact with others (part of my natural personality). However, when I force myself to interact with someone, I create much more meaning out of the experience. I discuss ways to implement the strategy in my classroom. I learn about other people’s philosophies of teaching and learning. This opportunity to create meaning about content immediately after exposure has proven to be the greatest asset that I have experienced during my teaching. This is only improved when the person I interact with is from the same school as I am because we can then think about our specific teaching positions. We can also hold each other accountable for implementation when we return to school. If no one reminds me about how I planned to implement the professional learning that I have taken, I struggle to actually do it. All of this being said, I try to create that opportunity for my students. I want them to use each other to create meaning about subjects in math and science. I also what them to have the opportunity to hold each other accountable.