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day one '08

Dan Meyer has a constantly challenging and interesting blog - and he strikes me as the kind of math teacher that I'd enjoy learning from.

In one of his more recent posts, he made these comments:

When you remove some scaffolding from your routine, you determine quickly if it was a) essential or b) a low-cost substitution for the essential. I'm noticing this everywhere lately.

  • slide animations (wipes, fly-ins, checkerboards, etc.) are a cheap sub for arresting visuals;

* classroom rules are a cheap sub for a classroom well-managed;

  • jargon is a cheap sub for authority;

  • profanity is a cheap sub for articulated emotion;

  • sophisticated words are a cheap sub for sophisticated ideas;

  • machismo is a cheap sub for masculinity;

  • "i love you" is a cheap sub for a ride to the airport and a note in the bag;

  • technology used is a cheap sub for technology used well;

  • meaningless assessment is a cheap sub for meaningful assessment;

  • years and units is a cheap sub for a teacher's worth;

  • supervision is a cheap sub for mentoring (submitted by jethro);

  • group work is a cheap sub for collaboration (submitted by TheInfamousJ);

These cheap substitutes (can1) lead us to believe we've filled a difficult prescription and performed our due diligence when in fact we are nowhere close.

[From dy/dan » Blog Archive » No Country For Old Teachers]
italic emphasis mine

With today being the first day of school here in NZ, I'm thinking again about what is the absolute essential that I need to deliver to my students. I'm starting in a new school and the challenge to extend these students is immense.

I opened today talking about setting up an environment of trust in the classroom, between each other as classmates and as individuals. I had given them all a piece of A4 with the word "TRUST" on and asked what they thought of that word. After some rather glib discussion, "It's got two T's" - I asked them to tear the paper up. Huge laughs and cue paper flying everywhere. I let them enjoy the thrill for about 30 seconds and waited for them to settle and sit quietly again. Paused for effect - then said: "Now put the piece of paper back the way it was."

Faces fell at that challenge. But to their credit, they tried and two groups even managed to get the pieces back into an A4 shape. I invited them to walk around and look at the work of their classmates, and think about whether or not it is possible to rebuild trust once it's been broken or torn. Someone asked about using sellotape, but it was pointed out that it still wouldn't be the same as the original.

My big point was that trust is what I want the room to be based on. They needed to trust me to deliver quality lessons, to give them feedback, to help them when they asked. I needed to trust them to deliver their work, to contribute in class, to put the effort into their learning. We needed to do what we'd say we'd do. And if we broke that trust - it would be extremely tough, impossible even to put it back to what it was originally.

Big ideas just kept coming at them as I kicked off a discussion about Kohlberg's 6 stages of moral development.

Heavy stuff for a first day possibly and a potential brain strain considering the sun was shining brightly and it was a balmy 25 degrees outside. But they took the challenge and some of the written and verbal comments were encouraging. It's not strictly academic content, but to setup an environment that allows for focused and powerfully engaged learning demands a big picture start. Several asked me: "Is this just for like classroom situations?" It's not of course and I pointed out this isn't a set of rules - particularly Level 6 - it's about considering what is your code - what will you choose to live by - and why.

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