Jennifer White, Evanston, WY
This August I had the pleasure of attending The Academy of Best Practices in Seattle, WA sponsored by CPM. It was an incredible experience; the energy, knowledge, and people were truly inspiring. While I took away a mountain of ideas that I still need to dig through, there are a few things that I took away that I implemented immediately and my classes are running better than I would have ever thought they could. These “big ideas” are teamwork, homework, and confidence.
I have always known that teamwork is a vital skill and that CPM emphasizes student teamwork. However, I did not know what that really looked like or how powerful it is. During ABP we worked in teams the entire time and learned strategies to help teams work better. It was fun to work in teams and we learned so much from each other that I knew it was something I had to bring to my own classroom. I started on the very first day of school. I have students change team rolls daily by rotating the roll sheet based on a “get to know you” question. This has improved how well teams work together and has helped students get to know each other on a personal level. This has promoted a sense of “we are in this together, and together we can do this!” My students believe “When we work in teams, we are not alone.” Good teamwork brings synergy that is incredibly powerful to the math classroom. It also spreads the work around so that one student is not in one role for weeks at a time. Mondays are team building days; I take five to twenty minutes of the class to challenge my teams with some sort of team building activity. It has been well worth the time as my students have learned to work together and communicate better than ever before, and I have found that the time is made up because teams that work well together work more efficiently and with a better understanding. Plus it is fun! These activities have contributed to the overall positive environment in my classes and have helped foster an open and accepting atmosphere in my room.
Homework is something that my department has been wrestling with. While I was at the Academy, I took the opportunity to pick the brains of math teachers from across the United States for ideas on how they look at homework, grade, and manage the work. During class we talked about homework as a place for students to practice their mathematical skills and how educators can treat it that way. This influences the grading issue because if homework is practice then it does not necessarily need a grade or a lot of class time, but students do still need feedback to know if they are on the correct track. One of the instructors suggested having copies of the work and solutions available for students to quickly check over their work sometime during class, accompanied with a short question and answer session at the end of class. I took this suggestion and it has changed my classes dramatically. Students are coming in before the bell rings to check their work and the quality of homework questions has improved drastically. The time we are spending on homework is nearly non-existent which has opened up class time for the lessons which have also improved. Students are getting the feedback they need, the practice they need, and are seeing a quality model of what the solutions should look like. Homework quiz grades are higher than they have ever been and my students are more comfortable trying problems in a risk-free place instead of shutting down and not trying.
While both teamwork and the change in the homework procedures have had a dramatic effect in my room, the biggest affect the Academy of Best Practices had on me was to instill confidence. Confidence that I am a quality educator, that my voice and opinions are valuable and the self-reliance to move in a direction I feel is helping my students. I now have the self-assurance to speak up in department meetings and with my administration. At the ABP I was asked to dream bigger than my classroom, bigger than my department, and bigger than my school. I am. I am thinking outside of my little world and I am dreaming big. I have switched my Masters degree to Curriculum Development so that I can follow the dreams I did not even know I had until my experience with the Academy of Best Practices. I know I will stay in math education, I know that I now have the tools, the resources, and the connections to be a better teacher and to continue into the future of big dreams. Attending the Academy was truly career and life changing for me and I will always be grateful.