This is the latest in a series of blogs from the teacher cohort.
By Lindsey Lamm
As professionals in the education field, we’ve all experienced the satisfying subtle crackling sound of the brand new textbooks being opened for the first time. We’ve all marveled at the shininess of brand new teacher’s manuals with no frayed edges, dog-eared pages, or coffee rings on the cover. We’ve looked longingly at the most beautiful sets of math manipulatives, all in brand new plastic, ready for kids to use. We’ve even sat in the meetings for choosing these resources, thinking of all kinds of ways this particular resource is “better” than the one we currently use. Don’t even get me started on the absolute bliss that is brand new Chrome books, iPads, or laptops in the classroom.
Notice that, not once, did I mention analyzing these resources as to how they will best benefit our students. In education, we are on textbook cycles, and obviously, new things are the best things, right? At times, this is absolutely true. However, those new resources also come with a pacing guide and suggestions for how to teach with the new materials. In order to implement with fidelity, we are expected to use these resources. Again, there is nothing wrong with that. However, somewhere in this process of implementing new things, we forget the tried and true methods that actually work in education. We like to rename and “tweak” those practices and fundamental ideals that have guided education for the last century, while throwing out anything that seems dated. I read recently that, “Students should not be entertained by education. Students should be engaged in education.” I wish I had a better citation for this, but it was mentioned in a Twitter chat by Alice Keeler. I am unsure of the origin. If our only goal in education is to entertain children, we are going to throw out so many fundamental skills necessary for a productive adult to be successful in the world.
My goal is not to debate educational pedagogy here, but instead throw out the idea that maybe a marriage of many different resources is the best way to truly craft a curriculum that WORKS in our school systems. Things that work in my classroom will not necessarily work in my teaching partner’s classroom, let alone in another school or district. In education, we like to latch onto the newest ideas whole-heartedly, which is essential for truly trying proper implementation. However, we neglect to reflect on the successes and failures, and we do not spend nearly enough time analyzing the failures and planning ways to fix them. I think it’s hard to do that because those resources that cost a district at least six figures should fix things right? They claim to be research based and the sales people do a phenomenal job of showing exactly what the products can do. I just think we need to do a better job of marrying the old with the new.
Perfect example. I recently attended a math workshop through Carnegie Mellon led by Maisha Moses of the Young People’s Project. Though I took so many ideas from her on how to make math accessible to all of my students, the one that stuck with me was the Flag way game. My students struggle with the relationships between numbers and inverse operations. This game was another way to show them prime, square, and composite numbers while practicing in a new way. Students are engaged in the game, but still learning and practicing basic number principles. Are the kids overly entertained by the game? Some are. Others, eh, not so much. However, all the kids are engaged in the game and their team, which makes for meaningful learning and practice.
We’d be here all day if I shared all of my examples like this one. Sometimes, though, I wonder. If we took all of these “square” ideas and whittled off the parts of the idea that don’t necessarily fit in our current classrooms, could they then fit into the round holes that need filled to help better our educational system? I’d venture a guess that the answer is a resounding YES. Reflection on our particular student, school, and district needs could help us reach that goal. Let’s make a goal to spend some time truly reflecting on what is important to us in education and what avenues we can take to make it happen. We’ll all be better because of it.