Experimental Teaching

It is a Sunday night before a new school week. This is when I mentally check with myself whether I am ready to teach on Monday and if there are any loose ends I need to wrap up. My grading is all caught up, except for Friday’s tests and some make-up tests. My lesson plans were filled out on Friday morning. Normally, that would be enough to convince me that I am ready to go. If this were the case, I would turn my attention to my personal dream work or do some reading for my PhD program or write some of the required work for my PhD program. That would be the case if my teaching day was a normal teach, assign and grade day. But it is not. I have decided to try something different. I have decided to step outside the prototypical teacher mode and do something different. This is going to take some preparation. Some interesting preparation.

However, before I go into the details of this new approach, I believe that it is best to give a little background on my approach. About this time last year, I received an electronic invitation to take part in a workshop in New York City. It seemed interesting but it was New York City! And I was living in Athens, GA. Long story short, it was exciting and scary at the same time; So I sucked up the fear and did it anyway. (It was very much like taking the jump to do this blog.) It was with The East Side Institute in Manhattan and Lois Holzman. The main premise I received from the three days was that concepts go to a deeper place when you act them out. Some of this butted heads with some of my Jungian beliefs but I found a way for it to blend into my belief system. The program emphasized acting, something that makes me feel rather uncomfortable. Despite this, I participated fully and learned some valuable things, as evidenced by this experiment.

A second influence was from my mentor, Peter Burmeister. Peter sent me an article on “unschooling.” This concept is, as I understand it, where parents pull their kids out of school and educate them at home. However, instead of copying a standard curriculum, they teach them by immersing them in the parents’ everyday living. That is, they allow the natural processes of Life to teach them all the lessons they need. This is also included in this experiment.

The third piece of this idea was presented by one of my Saybrook professors and a book she requested I read. Ruth Richards suggested I read Interpretive Ethnography by Norman K. Denzin. In the book, Denzin suggests many different ways to present research. One of those is interactive theatre. Therefore, that is the basis for my experiment.

Now back to the classroom. The setting is my 9th grade coordinate algebra class. About a week ago, we covered the last section in the book. Therefore, this class is all review for the last three months of the school year. Our first week was reviewing the same way I taught, except that the kids picked what we reviewed. Even though I gave them this power, there were still complaints. The biggest complaint was “why are we doing same problems all over the again?!” I told them I wasn’t gonna change it. I guess I lied.

So here is the plan. I created a new set of problems thanks to a test-making program. It will given to them on Monday and due on Friday. Nothing new so far. The new part is what I am calling Math Theatre.  I have a written a short play that illustrates the idea of balancing equation. (I will try to attached it some way. Balance play.) I will then divide the class into groups and they will come to the front of the class and perform it at their best. It is my hope that the concreteness of the play and the fact that everyone performs it will lead to deeper learning. If it doesn’t, I will refine it or reject it. The fun is in the process. As well as fun growth.

Update: I tried this today and asked the students to respond. The results were split; half found it boring and half liked it but thought there should be a variety of plays. I am going to make the next step and ask them to write and perform the plays, given the subject of the day. I’ll update this tomorrow.

Update #2. After a week of this practice, the students tell me that they like the practice. They also recommended that they write plays on Mondays and Wednesdays and they perform them on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They also claim that they help the students learn the concepts better. There is evidence of this because we played a game using the weekly worksheet I gave them. There were very few incorrect answers on the worksheet. After the students exchanged worksheets and graded them, most of the scores looked like they were 80-90% correct. It seems like a love of learning and better performance on the work. I will keep everyone posted.

Experimental Teaching

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