Learning on the Road

One of my favorite things about our Sunday surf trips, other than the surfing, is the time spent in the car with my boy. We have some pretty cool conversations as we drive the forty-five minutes from the city to the coast.  We watch football matches come to life on the side of the road, families making their way to church in their array of intricately colorful Ghanaian clothing and weave our way through taxis and tro tros.  

Last week my son got really into telling me all about his teacher’s new approach to math. The more he talked the more intrigued I became.

On Monday, I made contact with his teacher and asked to come observe.  With a time scheduled for later in the week we casually discussed what he was attempting to do in his classroom with the math unit. He noted that the traditional full class instruction for math just did not seem to be as effective as he wanted. It is very difficult to keep 18 students fully engaged when each enters the lesson with a different set of skills and understanding. He stated that at any given moment there seemed always to be a few students who had drifted off into not paying attention.

Essentially, he was working with a flex model of blended learning in an attempt to give his students more choices in the way they learn and keep them better engaged. The process started with a series of worksheets. Stick with me here. The students began with a formative self-assessment that introduced them to each concept. Once they complete the assessment they choose from the list of statements below that direct them to learning options.

  1. This is all new to me. I don’t even have a guess. I need to start with Finding Out
  2. I have some idea how to do the problems, but I’m not confident. I need to start with Finding Out.
  3. I know how to do this, but I would like to explore and inquire more into the topic. I will begin with Sorting Out.
  4. This is something I have already mastered. I’m ready to Go Further.

The sheet included ten tasks that were divided into the three different levels indicated above. Students were free to choose from any level at any time. The options included textbook pages, worksheets, BrainPop and other instructional videos, online learning games and manipulatives. Upon completing each tasks, students returned to the initial self assessment to see if they had made progress in their understandings.  In order to mark the concept as complete they had to explain it in writing as well as illustrate the concept. Throughout the process the students were free to interact with one another, ask the teacher or teacher assistant for individual help and partake in occasional small group instruction.

The teacher was now free to move about the room and observe his students working. This gave him the opportunity to more easily identify those that were struggling and also made it easier for those students to ask for help as they were not asking in front of the entire class. He did note that in some cases, individual students might work with a misconception for longer than he liked as he might not immediately identify it as he made his way around the room. However, he had also noticed that often another student would catch their peer’s mistake in which case each student was developing a better understanding.

Overall, students were more engaged and rarely off task. They thrived on the feeling of independence they were developing and actively encouraged and assisted one another as necessary.

As I spent time in the classroom, students were excited to show me what they were learning and how they were approaching the learning. As I asked questions they were eager and able to clearly explain the processes. The room was a bit noisy as students watched videos, (they were supposed to have headphones but not all had remembered to bring them) discussed their learning, asked questions and laughed. A beautiful sound during a math lesson.

Admittedly, there was a lot of work involved on the front end of the unit. Gathering resources and creating the worksheets took a lot of time. The worksheets were necessary over a learning management system due to the fact that the classroom is no 1:1 and there were not enough laptops or iPads for each student to have their own. In fact, there were several issues with logins and faulty computers while I was in the room. Something our school needs to address as part of a bigger issue.

The potential here is amazing. It is my hope that this teacher will continue the practice and offer his observations and learnings to his colleagues in order for this type of learning to grow.

I can’t wait to see what else my boy will teach me on the way to surfing this week…