I have written a lot about what I believe to be effective teaching practice. If anyone has read my previous blogs, you will know that I am a Constructivist, meaning that I believe that my students will learn more effectively when I present them with material and ask them to question it and/or construct their own meaning from it. For this week’s blog I decided that I will give an example of what that looks like in my room. I am going to use my most successful math lesson to date, one in which *I* did very little teaching! First I should give you a little background on my experience with math; this is my first time teaching grade 8 math, I have taught grade 7 for the last 4 years and my own math success in school is something that I do not wish to discuss (yes, it was that bad). When I opened the textbook the other day and saw *The Pythagorean Theorem, *I thought “oh crap, that is scary and if it is scary to me, it’s going to be terrifying to them.” So after figuring out what exactly the Pythagorean Theorem was, I came up with a way to make it a little less scary.

We use Math Makes Sense as one of our primary resources in math and from the comments that I hear from other teachers, I think that I am one of the few teachers that actually really likes it. Most of the activities are really great for getting kids to construct their own learning and understand why they are doing what they are doing. The introduction for the Pythagorean Theorem however, was not so good. So I decided to try something different.

When my students sat down in their math class that day, these were the instructions written on the board for them:

Go to the classroom website

Scroll down to the math link at the very bottom

Find SS8.1

Play games or watch the videos

You may also search YouTube for videos on the Pythagorean Theorem

By the end of the class, you have to be able to explain some of the theorem to me.

So, they got to work. As they explored web games and videos in pairs, I walked around the room and listened as they picked up important terms and wrote them on the board. They quickly discovered that the theorem only applies to right angle triangles and that the triangles have legs and a hypotenuse. Once and a while I would call their attention to something important that someone had discovered that I needed them all to know. It was going well. As they played with the formula I began to hear, “oh…I get it” and then I heard the deep heavy breathing of Darth Vader

Yes, that is right, Darth Vader taught my grade 8s the Pythagorean theorem. And it worked! Just look at the comments for the video. Soon, my students were making their own examples to try the theorem out and by the end of the hour all of them had a basic grasp of what it was all about. They had created their own connections using tools that I guided them to and ones that they discovered on their own. The next day when we went over the meat and bones of the ideas they already had constructed meaning and were able to follow and participate in the lesson and apply it to their practice questions.

I asked my kids if they thought that discovering the theorem themselves was a better way for them to learn it than me standing at the board trying to get them all to understand and they all said yes. There is a very simple explanation for this. Instead of passively listening, they all had to engage their brains in thinking about what it meant. They were also able to use tools that would work for them individually to make that engagement happen. If I had stood and talked, I would have had the attention of three or four students at most. Putting them in charge of themselves forces them to participate. Technology simply gives them the tools to make it happen.

On Friday, we had an assembly in the gym and my grade 8s were sitting on a bench that we set up on a diagonal to the corner of the gym. One of my students called my attention and said, “Hey Mrs Stinson, if this were a triangle, I would be sitting on the hypotenuse.” It was silly, but at that moment I felt like I had succeeded in “teaching” them even though they really had taught themselves and I just made it possible. It was pretty awesome.

A very creative and relevant way to allow students to construct their own learning. I love the video and the connections that your students have begun making to this constructivist apporach. It is amazing what engagement, purpose, and accountability do to a learning brain. You have discovered (what I no doubt know you already knew) that the middle years student loves taking charge and having choice when learning. When this happens it is great to see the “A Ha” moments begin to develop. It is times like this that no other profession in the world can understand. It is the “goose-bump” moment of learning that we all yearn for. Thanks for sharing your story of learning. 🙂 I look forward to hearing more.

I love the Darth Vader example! I wish we would have had Youtube as a kid. We did have Darth Vader, at least.

Thank you for sharing what this looks like in your classroom. Often teachers find it hard to allow kids to discover their own learning in the math classroom. They didn’t discover math and they don’t understand how students can work it out themselves. It makes a huge difference to the learning!

I totally feel and understand how you felt the other day. Many teachers want to have that effect, but do not know how. The key is simple and you figured that out. The teacher is no longer the key figure for knowledge. It’s now time for the teacher to be more of a coach or facilitator. Give students time to breathe…

Thank you for sharing that example! Is there anything you would do differently next time? Sounds like the lesson went great, any need to change?