Thursday, July 20, 2006

A Couple No-Brainers from CSM Education

From the Christian Science Monitor comes an instructive piece titled To Take the Yawn out of Math Equations, Teach the Teachers about the DOE's Teacher-to-Teacher Initiative. As part of this program, teachers can participate in one of 14 free workshops that are run by teachers. No consultants, gurus, professors, or other so-called experts who don't battle in the classroom trenches. The article states
By selecting presenters who can back up what they share with research on its effectiveness, officials hope to create a ripple effect of higher-quality instruction.
No Brainer #1: Some of the best professional development is planned and presented by teachers. Ever since I taught a grad course on blogs a couple years ago, I've been sold on the idea of professional development planned and presented by teachers. Everyone who is part of the PD--the presenter, the participants, the district, and students--benefits.

The teacher(s) presenting the workshop profits from the planning process: in order to fill the eight hours of seat time required for my course, I had to ponder the sundry ways blogs had enhanced my teaching and think of an effective way to impart that knowledge to my fellow teachers. As a result, I formed what for me were new paradigms for using blogs in the classroom. In an effort to provide teachers with as many examples as possible of classroom blogs, I ended up finding some excellent feeds for the my Bloglines account.

The workshop's participants benefit tremendously as well. They are receiving classroom-tested knowledge so they have an idea how it will work when they present it to their students.

The district benefits in many ways as well. For one, they save some cash by not having to hire an expensive consultant. Second, I have to imagine that the teachers in the workshops are much more likely to put the ideas they are learning about in the workshop to use simply because they are learning about them from one of their peers. This benefits the district because they have not wasted time and money to improve instruction.

Given the above, how could students not benefit?

No-Brainer #2: Teachers should work to teach integrated inquiry-based science and math lessons. After explaining the initiative, the article describes some of the lessons that teachers participated in. One involved the use of a pendulum and motion sensors and was lauded for its integration of science and mathematics. In learning about pendulums, teachers also learned about graphing their motion. At one point in the article, the author actually calls some of the activities unconventional!

I'm sorry, but there's nothing revolutionary about any of these activities, and to describe them as unconventional is downright heretical when talking about math and science. This is exactly how science should be taught and it says a lot about why we are falling so far behind that so many teachers need to take these courses to learn how to teach. Integration of math and science is simple when doing hands-on activities with students. When students are conducting tests of different variables, have them take measurements and use the resulting data to construct graphs. It's far from difficult.

Several times the article quotes two of the teachers who presented workshops for the initiative.
"It's a visceral experience," Coughlin says. Students sometimes have to go back and analyze what went wrong and try again. And that makes them remember. On her comprehensive exams at the end of the school year, she's found that they do best on subjects they've explored through these kinds of labs.

The point is never just entertainment, she and Hannum emphasize. They insist that all their students use correct vocabulary and relevant formulas, and write down their scientific reasoning.

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