Shifting the Approach - Middle School Math in American Community School, Abu Dhabi
Some Thoughts Before Writing Module 5
by Sara Turansky
American Community School, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
There is a different approach taking place in this pre-algebra classroom. There is no teacher presiding over the class. The large whiteboard at the front of the room is empty. The teacher is present, but she is sitting at her desk, off to the side, talking to a student. Three other students are sitting at a conference table manipulating tessellation puzzles. At another table, students are working on their Language Arts homework. There is a small group of students sitting on the couches in the corner discussing their after-school plans. At the three-computer island, two students are taking online quizzes and the third is rocking to Van Halen on his head-phoned CD player, as he types up a math journal entry.
Is this a special day? No, this is typical of any day in my pre-algebra classes.
Welcome to the world of online middle school math!
Teaching a course online appeals to me as a middle school teacher because students are able to work at their own pace. There is no "boredom factor" because there are no more lectures. Discipline problems are minimized as students are optimizing their time and energy. If they come to class tired and want to sleep, they sleep. If they want to play games, they play games. What I've noticed in the first six weeks of this approach is that most students choose to work because they want to learn. Besides the three computers available in class, students may use the drop-in lab (with faster processing) upstairs. If the students don't work during class time, they will work at home or after school.
The course is delivered through a course management system (cms) called Blackboard. There are other cms's, but this is the one that our school and its governing body have adopted. I divided up the course into 20 modules and each module is split into from two to six parts. Each part has a short, online reading, explaining the concept and giving examples. Then, students are given web sites to visit that reinforce the concept through interactivity. Next, an assignment is given from their book, which they must correct and then show to me before filing it into their folders. This is teaching them that they are responsible for their learning. After they file the assignment, they write a journal entry based on a prompt, in their online journal. If this is the beginning of the module, they are ready to go onto the next part. But, if they are at the end, they will have to take an online quiz followed by an assessment of their choice---paper test, oral test, or project to show that they understand the concepts covered in the module. These students are doing a lot more work than they would have done with a traditional approach and they are loving it! The parents are happy, too, because their children are working and taking the initiative for their learning.
Using this approach is a LOT more work for me, as the facilitator. I have to be very organized and also "prod" the students who need it. Teaching students organization and time management can be an uphill battle, but when the curriculum is easy to follow, fun, and interesting, students can be taught to be responsible for their own learning. And that, my colleagues, is pretty darn kewl (couldn't resist!) to witness.
Well, I can't write anymore right now. I have to go and design Module 5. I hate to keep my students waiting.
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