“Time’s up!” Eyes on the clock. A pretty girl, who sits next to me, begins collecting papers from the far end of the room. “Keep going, ” she’d whispered to me before walking to the front of the class. Once again, I had failed to finish my 50 multiplication facts on time and once again, Amy had given me a few extra minutes to try and finish.
Besides the selfless act of kindness of a classmate, I remember the anxiety, stress, and fear of failure that these timed tests brought me. And yet years later as a teacher I administered the same tests in the same way they had been inflicted on me as a fourth grader. Why? I didn’t know any better. I justified my actions by telling myself “I don’t take recess away, I don’t assign points by finishing time ranking. And I give two extra minutes to those that need the time.”
It wasn’t until years later,when Dr. Jo Boaler and her YouCubian’s helped free me from the timed fact test labyrinth. Know the multiplication facts? Yes, it makes math life a whole lot easier. Speed? Definitely not. Take your time do it right. We all have a “right” speed for solving math problems. Their is no penalty for working at your own pace.
I no longer give timed math fact tests. Students still learn their math facts but they are also tasked to learn why the facts are what they are (example: multiplication is repeated addition of equal groups). We now go deeper to get a fuller understanding of the very important “why” behind the facts. And I significantly reduce the math anxiety, stress, and fear of failure in my students.
I remember back to my first year teaching third grade, when my class was in the middle of reading Little House in the Big Woods, I decided to have my students build a model of Laura’s little house. Students were free to create their interpretation as long as it fit in a shoebox. They could use any materials available to them. Needless to say there were many standard looking shack -like creations.
But.. in the middle of all the ordinary came the extraordinary. From a quite, complacent and what I thought, not-too-involved-in-the-story, kind of student came an innovative gem. She built out of cardboard, sticks, grass, and parts of an old keychain flashlight a scene from the book that struck her and stuck in her imaginative and innovative mind. A scene of a little girl sitting by candlelight, in a tiny house in the emence darkness of the big woods. As she presented her work, she had us turn off the lights and she related how scared Laura had felt in the long dark nights. The class was silent and when she finished, quick to applaud.
My student took an ordinary assignment, made an emotional connection, and innovatively created a visual, tactile depiction of the fear the author wanted the reader to feel. She kicked my assignment up a few notches and I am humbled to this day.
I just read a news report off my Twitter stream. I’m working on a flowchart in the cloud. I learn how to build an outdoor brick oven on YouTube. Why should education/educators innovate? Just look around. To live in today’s world is to live surrrounded by a constant stream of information or as Paul Simon wrote 30 plus years ago “staccato signals of constant information” Yet education struggles to implement innovative models of learning.
Many teachers, including myself, struggle with technological change and when implentation of programs happens, it tends to fall back into existing structures. Innovation comes from changing the way we approach creating learning environments aligned to how today’s children learn—how we as educators connect with learners realities. There are plenty of opportunities to create depth of learning from students “connected” reality. The most innovative approaches allow our students see the true potential of their connectedness.