Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Summer Plans - Curriculum Remix

While this new blogging/twittering (tweeting?) thing has been wonderful, it has also made me overwhelmed with thoughts about what I want to change in my curriculum for next year. I've been working in a bunch of different directions for a few years (some quite contradictory), but I'm hoping to pull a lot of things together this summer and not feel like I'm tinkering at the edges. One of my sad realizations this year when we were moving offices and I cleaned out a giant box of crap I had lugged from my first school where I spent my first year teaching was all of the insane, cool, cutting edge stuff that I was doing then because I had no fear and didn't know any better and was doing the teaching thing completely solo and rudderless. The part that made me sad lay in realizing how much of that stuff has gone away since I've been at my current school and have become normal, established, and, gasp, respectable. In reality, a lot of that stuff did need to go away. I was giving kids really hard problems and open investigations with no scaffolding and support. I jumped from project to project with no follow through or continuity, which just created confusion. Everything was also handwritten and xeroxed (clearly, I hate trees). Not to mention the fact that my classroom management was just so ridiculous that first year that none of my grand curricular plans even had a chance. Since taking a curricular leap backward these past few years, I've been able to get so much better at organizing the day-to-day running of a class and my ability to interact with and lead students, which I know is really important for my development as a teacher. But I'm really ready to bring some of that crazy self back and inject some pow! back into my teaching.

To that end, I've been gathering resources and thinking how I want to restructure the various Algebra courses that I teach. Some things that I'm finding helpful are:
Mainly, I want to change from feeling like I'm teaching a traditional curriculum with interesting problems thrown in every once in a while to a legit constructivist approach. But I still want it to feel cohesive and be rigorous. And I want the students to be on board, which means that I have to meet them where they are when they arrive in my classroom and get them to follow me somewhere different. So this will have to be much, much slower than that erratic first year and more intentional too. My plan right now is to start with the big ideas/concepts from each chapter in the book (not ready to ditch the textbook quite yet), and decide on the best sequence (I'm fine with "going out of order") and problem-based entry point for each concept. I need to decide on how many days for exploring and problem-solving and how much procedural practice I still want to include. Another change that I want to make is to tie journaling more directly to our classwork and problem solving, rather than an add-on "reflection" that students do before a quiz or to wrap up the chapter. I am also thinking of diversifying assessments to include more writing and problem solving, which is mainly just a brain switch for me to stop thinking of tests and quizzes as the "real" assessments of what students know and of projects as the intermediate step where they're still learning and making connections.

The nice thing about doing things "normally" at my current school is that I have some cred with students and the department so that they will give me leeway to try things without assuming I have no idea what I'm doing. It also means that I don't have to think as hard about procedural/classroom management/dealing with teenagers stuff because it sort of starts to make sense after all these years (which is its own brand of crazy). I can just focus on my curriculum. So it's on!

 I would love to hear from others about how you've made your class more progressive or get recommendations for more curricular resources. As I start the actual reworking, I'll be posting ideas for problems and journal prompts for feedback too.


  1. We have been thinking along the same lines . . . I, too, will be taking a big leap this coming year when I flip my classroom. I attended the "Flipped Learning Conference" in Chicago last week.

    According to the "experts" I will gain so much more class time and will be able to truly differentiate. The videos I will make using my guided notes will not exceed 10 minutes. The students will be able to watch them at their own pace; can rewind or fast forward if they get the concept and want to move on the examples. Then when they come to class to do work, I will have time to spend with each student. One of the presenters said she was able to speak to each student at least twice per class period after she flipped.

    I also hope that I have earned the cred to get the support of the department. More to come as I tackle the recording and figure out how to make the assignment sheet work for this new venture . . .

  2. Wow, glad that you got so much out of that conference. Are you thinking of going to a full flipped model or are you going to use it on occasion within a "normal" structure? I'd love to hear more about your thinking on this because the more I learned about flipping, the more I realized that this is not the direction I want to move in right now. But, I will totally be taking notes to see how it goes for you this year and thinking about it more!