Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Following a Plan

I guess it's normal for teachers to feel like they are starting from behind and trying to catch up. That's how I felt my first few weeks, first month, and still feel now almost half way through my short semester. For me it was a combination of being a new teacher, being hired at a school I'd never heard of right at the start of the semester, then trying to match the conflicting outlines of the other teachers who are also teaching the same course as me. My semester is also short - running from the first week of September only to the end of November.

My teacher education program and experience at my placements did a really great job of encouraging us to not try too hard to recreate the wheel too often. There are great lessons and resources all over the place and in particular all over the web. Many of which have been created by experienced teachers, with access to time, research, and other tools that we don't have. A lot of them have even been paid to make them - others, of course, have been shared by teachers out of the goodness and kindness of their hearts and in the interest of making us all better teachers. Regardless, there seems to be no excuse for teaching from the textbook alone or for having to make up class notes and activities from scratch everyday.

Two places we were most often directed to were the EduGAINS (mathGAINS) and TIPS4RM wesbites. My focus during my teacher education was on the intermediate grades, because I was more familiar with the high school and university material, students of that age group, and because my placements were in a grade 6 class and a grade 7/8 class. Now that I'm teaching a grade 12 course I've come back to these sites and had a closer look at the material for high school courses and I think it's just fantastic. I wish I had put together that the two sites can be seen to work in tandem but that they actual don't repeat much material. The formats for the lessons are the same and both use the titles GAINS and TIPS4RM so when I was first looking them up this Fall I thought they would have repeated the same material in two different web locations. NOT THE CASE!

By searching for "tips4rm, mhf4u" I came across this site here which includes a nice outline of the course and an outline for each unit along with some projects and some pedagogical explanations for why things are done the way they are. By searching for  "edugains, mhf4u" I come across a link to here which includes the same basic outline (but not some of the projects) AND has detailed lessons for most of the topics covered. I WISH I HAD FIGURED THIS OUT SOONER! But really, I'm just glad I got myself set up on it now. Because I'm teaching the Ontario Curriculum and these were written by the Ontario Association for Math Educators (OAME) (@OAMEcounts) it's really helpful for making sure I cover all my expectations and for putting together my lesson plans in a sensible fashion (I plan on teaching this course again and as a private school I will have at least one inspection by the Ministry who will likely ask about my lesson plans, how I am tracking expectations, and things like that).

My big idea for improving my teaching, reducing my planning time, increasing my time spent reflecting and improving (through this blog and twitter with the help of other great math teachers) is to follow these outlines as a starting point. I will modify them like crazy when I want to or need to. I have already used a great activity called "Light It Up" from the Illuminations folks too and plan on using more of their stuff so I am not going to limit myself to GAINS/TIPS4RM course either, but it means I have a great starting place that is not just teaching from the book because one of the most important skills we can develop in our (especially senior) students is the ability to use their books as resources, to use the index and glossary and look things up and then to look them up online too. That's how it works when you want to do something you don't know how to do and it's not for school. If I can teach my students how to teach themselves then I'm getting somewhere and it doesn't really matter if they ever use the math in real life....

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