Three (Moderately Sized) Steps for a Teacher, Three Giant Leaps for a Classroom?

August 8, 2018

Somehow, impossibly, our hot, wet summer has trundled its way into August and I am realizing that in just a few short weeks it will be time to greet my students again.  Though most of my attention this summer has been on our engagement-based education project (much more on that to come), I have flagged some passages in my general reading that I want to apply to my own work in the classroom.


That’s far too cleaned up.


More truthfully, I have flagged a few hundred things, and along with electronic bookmarks and dog-eared pages and sticky notes, I have scraps of paper everywhere and way too many grand plans for doing too many things better all at once.


Recognizing this tendency, I have decided to pick just three things to focus on first. Three things, that while ambitious, seem doable.


Start with a question. We’ve been posting and blogging about inquiry as an essential component of authentic engagement, but I realize my own classes don’t start often enough with students’ interests and

questions. Nor do they start often enough with an intriguing thought question or hook, something that makes students need the math we’re going to be learning. We’ve been playing a great game at my house this summer, called Prime Climb, and I’m seeing all kinds of possibilities in it for students to make number discoveries and have great conversations.

The object of the game is simple enough: Be the first to get both your tokens to 101. Players roll dice and apply a mathematics operation of their choice in order to move strategically. Landing on prime numbers can be a big advantage so how can they get to one? The game board itself is an exquisite visual representation of prime and composite numbers and all the relationships among them. In other words, a very intriguing hook. What do you notice? What do you wonder? What do you think the next ten numbers would look like? We’ll be playing with the game board before we ever learn the game.



Never say anything a kid can say. This one comes from the great article by Steven C. Reinhart that we posted on Monday. It’s a tough one for me. I talk too much. I’m an excellent talker. I know tons of words! I’m also good at Scrabble, crossword puzzles and unscrambling words. I like to write words. I like to play with words. I like to say words. And this year, I am going to shovel some of them back down my gullet and make more room for students’ words. Mark my words.


Never work harder than your students.  Sara, recommended this book one day last spring when I was describing a very disheartening morning when a seemingly well-planned activity fell completely flat. After telling her about all the time, energy, and thought I had put into it, Sara (kindly) wondered if I had perhaps done all the work. And so this fall, I’m going to be thinking very hard about this: What is my work, and what is their work? Who is doing the thinking and the learning?


With a little luck, it will be all of us.


Stay tuned for how it goes.

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