Saturday, October 5, 2013


I've been a modeler for going on three years now and I've never really reached the expectation of what a modeling classroom looks like. My first year came close, but my second year was fraught with overreach on my part, as I tried to implement my new geometry curriculum while also rolling out SBG across all of my preps. This year, I'd actually consciously decided to scale back my efforts on the modeling front simply because I couldn't take the never ending stream of disappointment. I wouldn't go back to lecturing and be "sage on the stage," but I wasn't going to force all-modeling-all-the-time down students' throats. 

And this went on for all of September - I might have half-heartedly tried whiteboarding a worksheet here and there, but I wasn't forcing in depth discussions on anyone. My concerns lay with class size in physics (32) and one of my geometry classes (33), but also with maturity with another geometry class. My third geometry class is only 17 kids, and I started to think that maybe I could actually connect with a class that small, even if they weren't really 'ready' for such a paradigm shift. So for the first worksheet of the second unit (linear equations), I figured I'd give modeling another shot. 

My hope was that since linear equations is all a review of 9th grade algebra, kids would have a chance to acclimate to collaboration in a lower-stress environment. Wednesday was the first day of whiteboarding and I went through the "rules" of discussion with them, stressing respect above all else. By the end of the hour, we'd gotten through 2 of the 12 problems, but the class actually showed promise. 

On Thursday, I put instructions on the front board to put the whiteboards back up and we'd pick up where we left off. Some students voiced concerns about how long we'd be doing this, and I'd reply "as long as it takes." Thursday actually progressed fairly well for the first half of class, but then the natives got restless and started focusing more on going through the motions so that they could be done than on ensuring everyone understood how to answer the questions. 

So on Friday, I repeated Thursday's instructions, but said that the quiz would be at 11:38 (15 mins before the end of class). They only had a couple of problems left to cover, so they actually got through them with time to spare. When it looked like the discussion was mostly over, one student came to me privately and asked for help on a question that the class had just gone over - he'd been to shy/scared to ask for help. I politely reminded him that I wasn't going to answer stuff like that and that he needed to ask his peers for help. Dejectedly, he went back to his desk and sank into his chair. 

It was clear that at least one student wasn't getting anything from the discussion, and since we had 15 minutes before the quiz, I told the group what I was going to do. I said that since everyone had claimed to have consensus on the entire worksheet, that I would score the quizzes, but give everyone the lowest score for each of the two standards. I reminded them that they are a class, and that the point of this exercise was to work together so that everyone could master the content. And if they'd truly done that, it shouldn't be an issue. As expected, they were upset. "That's not fair! You can't do that!" My personal favorite was "you can't punish everyone because a few kids choose to not even try!" 

So for 15 panicked filled minutes, they collectively sought out anyone who was struggling and helped tutor them on whatever skill they were lacking. I mean, they really tutored everyone. It was probably the first time throughout the three days that they worked as a team toward a common goal. The 'smart' kids were polite and respectful and seemed genuinely interested in helping the students who were struggling. 

As I started passing out the quiz, a few students were still worried about the threat I'd made, so I offered a compromise: I'll still give everyone the lowest score, but I also said that they didn't need to take the quiz independently. That seemed to placate everyone, but amazingly enough, very few students took me up on the offer. When they were done, I asked why they didn't work together and students mostly said that they didn't need to - the quiz seemed easy and they all felt fairly confident about how they performed. 

I realized through all this that the thing that I love most about teaching is the chance to try new things. I don't hate lecturing, I hate only lecturing. And I might have grown frustrated with modeling over the last two years because I was only modeling. I really enjoy surprising students with different ideas, even if the ideas blow up in my face. This might make some wonder why all teachers don't do stuff like this, but remember what I said up top: I don't do these things in my classes over 30 because I can't take the stress. I honestly feel restricted by class size most of the time and am relegated to simpler lesson plans like lecturing and worksheets. If I could change ONE thing in education, it would be a firm cap of 20-24 on all classes.