Change is Bad

Change is really hard to take, especially in education. Change is usually uncomfortable, and at times a nuisance. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?

Well, in a field as broad as education “broke” is not black and white. It’s not simply working or broken; sometimes, things can be bettered by an uncomfortable change.

Here is one of my many frames of reference: students like predictability. They like things they’ve done before. They like things to stay the same, and they seem quite complacent with the hierarchy of the class — the weak stay weak, and the strong shall remain strong. A change in teaching styles could shake up the hierarchy or at least make them uncomfortable. The students who tend to protest most about change are those who are at or near the top.

Photo credit to Sara Thibeault. (CC) 2013.

Photo credit to Sara Thibeault. (CC) 2013.

For instance, in one of my math classes, we will be starting a math circuit. I haven’t worked out the finer details of exactly whose doing what, where, when, and why, but I’ve got the basic concept down pat. I’ve decided to split my class into seven groups, loosely based on ability, but also on compatible workers. I created seven stations for my students to work at — Thibeault Time (3 on 1 instruction/help with me), Mad Minute (drill and practice on basic math skills), Math Mysteries (a few problems or related games to play), Practice (work time on an assignment, which they will visit twice), Literacy Time (reading at-level math history or math-related articles that I found), and Skill Check (a short quiz that students will take after they are ready to show mastery of a specific math process, or more practice time if they aren’t ready). I plan on working through 5 ten-minute rotations each day. I have a 62-minute class, and I’m allotting 5 minutes for Oh Canada/attendance/setup, as well as 5 one-minute breaks for rotation time, and two minutes for clean up. All of this will flow under the guidance of their individual learning contracts. This hopefully will minimize chaos and maximize awesome learning time. It’s going to be hectic and crazy, but I’m ready for the challenge.

Here’s the catch: I didn’t tell them about it. Why? I wanted to flip a unit with them (the polynomials one above, actually, with a few improvements) and they complained bitterly for days leading up to it. They were uncertainly about it for the first few days, and by the end they enjoyed it. A few students complained afterward too, and it was enough to rattle my confidence. So I went back to teaching on the board (not even the SmartBoard) and powered through the next unit.

The biggest complainers involved in this whole ordeal were the students, barring a few, who were at the top of the class. Maybe they were nervous that they weren’t going to be #1 anymore? Maybe they were nervous that it wasn’t going to work for them? Maybe they knew that they could coast and not have to do a ton of work with traditional teaching, so weren’t prepared to step u their game? I don’t know. I’ve seen it in a few of my other classes as well, and I’m a little disheartened by it. Just not enough to make me scrap my plans or kill my enthusiasm.

So this is where I stand — I have big plans for change in my classroom and students who are hesitant because it will be different and maybe even a bit awkward. Any advice for keeping them calm and getting them on-board? Also, has anyone else tried math stations in their classroom successfully (or unsuccessfully)?


15 thoughts on “Change is Bad

  1. This sounds like an excellent idea. Sometimes you have to get kids out of their comfort zone to challenge them. When I do this, I find being up front with them is the best way. When I say upfront, relay the message to them that this will help them in the future. It sounds like you’re preparing them to use their brain muscles and/ or do some critical thinking. That is soooo necessary for kids to get experience in if they want to compete in the global market when they are older. I just completed a Common Core training, and it’s all about preparing them for college and career. Good luck with everything. This math circuit sounds awesome – I might have to find a way to make a Language Arts Circuit;)

    • Thanks for the advice! I’m quite nervous to implement something that could be perceived as radical, but I think it will be the best in the long run. As for the Language Arts circuit, it could be anything! I just happen to have a math class. I’m thinking it would be easy to circuit-ize a lit circle or grammar lessons. The possibilities are endless!

  2. I love the Math circuit idea. The students get to try different types of learning activities. It’s surprising how “set in their ways” high students can be. And those kids at the top of your class… they’re stuck in the routine, but have figured it out. Next year when they get a different teacher and their marks drop because the teacher has a different routine, that teacher will get blamed. As L.A. Teacher said, this will help prepare them for different types of learning.
    Reading in Math class?
    Solving mysteries?
    Make up my own example?
    Present an alternative solution?
    That’s not the way a math class is SUPPOSED to go!
    Keep Smiling and congratulations on your Lobster nomination 😉

    • Thanks for the support! I’m so happy to see that there are so many teachers who are doing similar things in their math class! Reading is so important for math, so why not include it in my class and provide a change of pace all at once!

  3. I used math stations when my gr.6 students were clearly bored with textbook questions. I cut up the text questions and put the problems at stations around the room. For each question I included materials they may need to solve the problem, manipulatives, paper, math tools etc. It worked well because one, they could move around, two, they could work collaboratively, and three, they were able to work at their own pace. I did not give a time limit for each station and they did not have to do the questions in any particular order. I also had a smart board station with math games and interactives for an online element. I moved around station to station to help those that needed it. I found if I tied myself up at one station I wasn’t able to monitor. I love that you are trying new things with your students, it shows you care, and they will appreciate the efforts. I know some teachers who do a simiiar thing to what you described, similar to The Daily 5 but for math. Good luck and stay positive!

    • Thanks for the advice! So far, the students are working pretty independently and I haven’t had too many management issues. I’m trusting them to be working on their own during the practice station, so we’ll see what happens as due dates start approaching!

  4. Sara, my background is as a primary teacher, and I used math stations all the time in primary. It was basically how I ran my math program. As a junior teacher now, I still do small group activities all the time, but I’ve had to play with the set-up. My problem with the centres in junior is the organization piece. The desk set-up is different and the room is not always my own, so I can’t get things set-up in advance. This becomes a management problem, so I changed things a bit. Instead of doing centres, I do lots of small group problem-solving opportunities, and I do a combination of open-ended ones and guided ones. Then I can sit with groups and support those students that need it most.

    My students really struggled with me in math at the beginning of this year. They were used to teachers that used a textbook, assigned numerous questions for students to complete independently, and then marked the work with a number out of ____. This year we did more open-ended math problems. We used manipulatives. Students worked in groups. They had to communicate their thinking and express it in different ways. Some students found this really hard. I spent lots of time talking to the students and to the parents about the reason for the change. I supported those students that needed it at lunch time or during class with additional help. I persevered, and they did too. Now they love this hands-on approach. In fact, the other day I wanted them to write something in their math notebooks and I said “textbook” instead. They were so upset! They said, “But Miss Dunsiger, you NEVER use the textbook!” I corrected my error, and we all chuckled together.

    Please try not to give up on this change. Talk to your students about why they don’t like it. See if you can support them as you move to a new approach. I’d also suggest taking time for a “math congress” at the end of centres. Give a chance for students to share what they learned and for you to help tie things together. This is really important. This may also help those students that aren’t so sure about your new approach.

    Good luck!

    • Thanks, Aviva! Your support is greatly appreciated! I will continue to push the boundaries, and I have the students mostly hanging out at their tables, rather than trying to physically rotate. The only place they move to is Thibeault Time at the back with me. I’m changing the format a little bit, but it feels more like a series of tweaking rather than an overhaul, which I think is a step in the right direction with this!
      Thanks again!

  5. Hello Sara
    I love your big-picture thinking about change. I’m looking forward to reading your blog when you document the results of the changes you have planned.
    Maths rotations and groups are going well in my Grade Three class at the moment. We often do a three-group rotation in one hour. Tasks are usually open-ended or game-based, so that all levels can learn from the one activity. We aim at maximising language through partner work or teacher-led discussion – using our talk to develop our thinking. We also have our ‘Level Up’ sessions where students can work for as long as they need on one activity – they just have to be able to prove that they are Levelling up, or pushing themselves with a (slightly) harder challenge.
    Your post makes me think that there might be some big differences between the learning behaviours of yours students and mine. My questions arise:
    Would the 5-minute length suit my young learners?
    How is learning through language maximized in your maths class?
    Do rotations help or hinder students to ‘dig deeper into their understanding’? (That last phrase from your fabulous Philosophy page!)

    • Thanks for the support, Brette! I think I’ll be more open with which students are in what group, including giving them some freedom to choose who they work with, and flexibility for me to create/change the groups mid-unit. I think this may help combat the issues when students are away (and are behind their group).

  6. I do something similar in my math classes. I don’t keep kids in specific groups, I usually do some sort of formative assessment and group kids for the next day. I give the kids a list of things to do (i.e. problem solving activity, on my smart board, ixl,, and/or stations depending on the day) then I just call seemingly random groups. The kids know they have to get all of the pieces completed. We discussed the purpose, advantages, challenges, before we started. For the most part, the kids respond because they have choice about who they work with and the order in which they do things. Good luck!! Keep up the great work!

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