Thursday, March 28, 2013

Replacing Unit Based teaching with Activity based Teaching

Finally getting back to this blog after a while away. I am going to try and focus and publish a few posts about activity based teaching in mathematics and how I no longer teach compartmentalized units.

Kudos go to all those bloggers and tweeters who I have been discreetly lurking at......but not participating in their conversations. You have inspired me and completely changed my practise in the classroom. Amazing stuff coming from Dan Meyer and others. You are all amazing. Jimmy Pai thanks for inspiring me to get back at this blog. Good advice!

Ok so I have been teaching grade 10 applied math (typically students who don't like and are not engaged in math for various reasons) in Ottawa, Ontario Canada. There are 9 big ideas in the course. Here they are: similar triangles, Pythagorean theorem , Right angled trigonometry, surface area and volume of 3-D figures, lines ( solving linear equations, interpreting linear situations, intersection of two lines ) and quadratics ( quadratic algebra, characteristics of quadratics, interpreting graphs of quadratics ). Here is the official Ontario Curriculum.

I have taught 9 sections of this course in the last 3.5 years ( 7 semesters ). The first three times I taught the course I taught by units. The last 6 times I have taught by integrating the curriculum into activities ( I call this cycling or spiralling the curriculum ). So .......no compartmentalized units. The activities have come from many sources and are scaffolded early in the course and become more student driven and inquiry driven as the course moves on. Here is a prezi of a presentation I did at OAME 2012 in Kingston that describes cycling the curriculum

Characteristics of an activity based classroom:
Cycle / Spiral through the curriculum using activities / tasks / problems / projects as the vehicle.
Students pose the questions for some activities based on a photo, action, video, statement, etc.
Classroom is student centered with the teacher acting as a facilitator.
Conversations about mathematics ( Teacher to student, student to student, student to teacher ).
Curious and creative learners ( students pose questions, students commit to a guess, students determine what they need to know to answer the problem ).
Hands on activities ( Cube-a-links, barbies, cups, ball rolls, marble rolls, squares, catapults, ski jumping, roof trusses, algebra tiles, toothpicks, bridges, ............. ).
Story telling about an image, photograph, etc.

Benefits? You bet..........
Multiple entry points for all students.
Increased student engagement.
Increased student confidence.
Fewer discipline problems.
Math follows the activity / project / task / problem which makes the math relevant for the student.
More connections are made between concepts.
Critical thinking improves and connections to the big ideas in the course develop naturally.
Improved retention by students because of experience with activity. The activity becomes a contextual cue for the student.
Repeated opportunities as the students do activities ( for gap filling, for assessment, for retention of curriculum ).
Cycling or spiralling curriculum allows for repeated opportunities and improves connections between the big ideas.
Meet students where they are at and move them forward ( differentiated instruction ).
More conversations about mathematics, problem solving ( accountable talk). Teacher to student, student to student, student to teacher. Collaborative environment.
Tons of time to get through the course material. ( "uncover the curriculum" versus "cover the curriculum" )

Scary   ;(   not so much. I have been living this for a few years now......and still have a pulse.....barely.