Week before last I listened to an interview with a teaching friend, John Hunter, about the premier of a documentary being made around him and a game he invented called World Peace. (See the You Tube Video here: John Hunter explaining his World Peace game. ) John is a gifted resource teacher in my division and he described his job as one where he “sets up a situation so students have to stumble through the unknown and discover for themselves how to do it.”
His game is one that has evolved over the 30+ years he’s been teaching and he clearly is a teacher who doesn’t mind the students being in control of their learning. Heck, he even talks in this interview about supporting that, and that once the game begins, it is out of his hands. John is an amazing teacher, thinker and colleague and it’s a great pleasure to work in a system where I have relatively regular contact with him, even though he’s in a another school. If you are in Charlottesville, VA on February 21, 2010, please attend the premier of this documentary at the Paramount Theatre. I guarantee it will amaze and astound you and give you food for thought.
In this interview, John also speaks to the ease/relief/ability to be this creative because he works with kids who have already learned the minimum state standards, so they can explore these bigger questions of life. I think all gifted teachers have some of this feeling in us. Because of the students’ abilities with whom we work, we DO have more latitude in what we teach in many situations. That’s both a good and a bad thing.
It’s good because we can meet these very, very bright kids at the level at which they think without them being slowed down by thinkers who may not make the intuitive leaps they do, who may not have the background of information they do, and who may not have the confidence to challenge them as they think aloud. This experience isn’t about elitism, but about allowing students the opportunities to think with others who think at their speed, at the depth they do, and who question the world as they often do.
It’s bad because all teachers do not feel they have the latitude to teach this way with all students–to explore big questions of life and tie their lessons into essential questions that support students making those connections between topics, between concepts and between understandings that are universal and that deepen their understanding of the world.
I have a teacher in my school, though, who is attempting to teach to that level with ALL of her students in math. This teacher has developed a structure that is based on the ideas behind the “Daily Five” in literacy. She has created a pie, divided into three pieces, which, after brainstorming with several folks, she decided on the categories Becky Fisher (@beckyfisher73) suggested, which were strategy, fluency and numeracy.
Of course these overlap, but by looking at each of these each day, and helping kids thinking metacognitively about these skills, they become more aware of their mathematical thinking and in turn, become better at it. She devises a set of three problems that revolve around big ideas in math and then the children self-select which of the three problem solving tasks they will work on for the week. By Friday they create a poster describing their thinking and explaining the way the solved the problem. That’s the numeracy piece of her pie.
The fluency piece is the arithmetical part of math–direct teaching and practice of basic skills, based on the Virginia Standards of Learning for 4th grade.
The strategy piece of her pie is worked on in several ways–through the posters the students create to show their thinking, the work they do as the week goes along and the classroom conversations that occur around their work. Students love the structure, they are free to develop their own strategies to solve the problems, they talk about the connections between the various problems and they self-select into the groups that sometimes stretch them, sometimes allow them practice and sometimes allow them to lead the problem solving process.
Big picture thinking and teaching and learning–why doesn’t it happen in more classrooms? How can we restructure our schools so that it can be pervasive and the norm rather than the outlier?