Here at LearnBop we have a team of amazing educators with diverse backgrounds who have come on board to author content for our interactive Bops. To help you get to know them better, we're doing a series of Author Profiles. Today's installment is written by Joann Barnett, a valued member of our author team.
I retired from public schools after teaching 28 years in middle school math. Since then I have been the facilitator for the Elementary Math Specialist program at Missouri State University. I am also an adjunct instructor, teaching developmental math at Ozark Technical Community College. When the opportunity arises I also work as a consultant providing professional development for the teaching of mathematics.
Sometimes, I hear people use the phrase “just a teacher” as though a person reluctantly decides to become a teacher through some sort of default career choice. Actually, if you are meant to be a teacher, this career chooses you!
I am so glad I am a teacher because I have found this career to be both an avenue for creativity and an adventure in itself. There are many opportunities for teachers outside of the classroom that help teachers excel even more inside the classroom. These opportunities often manifest themselves if teachers maintain contact with their local university. It is through public school partnerships with MSU that I have been able to work with colleagues on many grants, travel across the United States for various educational purposes, and provide professional development for teachers throughout Missouri. And it is also through my work with professional development throughout the state that I connected with the LearnBop team. All of these extra opportunities made me better prepared to be the teacher I was intended to be. My career choice never left me feeling as though I settled for being “just a teacher.
Emboding A Passioon for Math
I could teach number theory all year long. I could also teach geometry all year long. But I also believe I could teach fraction concepts all year long. I guess I can’t decide on my favorite.
Right now I work with pre-service teachers and practicing teachers. What I really want these teachers to know is that the most important thing is that no matter what your favorite topics are, each lesson should be designed and delivered as though it is your favorite.When designing a lesson, be sure the lesson is engaging, purposeful, effective, and creative. Be a creative master teacher. The creative master teacher is like Bob Ross. Give him a brush, a canvas, and a willing student and he can make trees happen.
The creative, master teacher is like a jazz band at a jam session. Give her a drummer, pianist, and a bass player all playing music with similar chord structure and she can make beautiful music happen. The creative, master teacher just needs the appropriate materials, needs to know her students' interests, needs to know the content standards, and needs to be passionate about the content she teaches. Then she can place all of this on a canvas or within a structure so that many great things are learned from this single lesson while the smallest grain of knowledge that the student carries away is the content standard itself.
The Joy of Student Discovery
My teaching style is best described in Carol Tomlinson’s book “The Differentiated Classroom.” Tomlinson tells the story of herself when, as a young girl, she finds a litter of kittens behind an old garage. Tomlinson recounts that she could not wait for her best friend to see the kittens. But instead of telling her friend that she had found kittens, Tomlinson simply tells her friend to come with her because she has a surprise for her.
Both she and her friend are so excited as they run to the garage….her friend is excited because there is a surprise, and Tomlinson is excited because she knows what the surprise is. As they near the back of the garage, Tomlinson steps aside and tells her friend to go on and see for herself. Yes! Tomlinson let her friend experience the same joy she had felt when she discovered the baby kittens.
This story describes the teaching style I strive for: designing a lesson that brings students to the edge of “figuring it out” and then stepping back and letting students do just that. The finest lessons I have ever designed are not centered on me telling students what I want them to know, but rather, my finest lessons are when my students are telling me exactly what I wanted them to know. The truth is, I have never taught a lesson that was as wonderful as discovering baby kittens…. but I’m still trying!
The story of the kittens also illustrates the general plan in authoring a Bop. When a student incorrectly answers the initial prompt (or asks for help), the student enters the tutorial. What I’ve seen as an educator is that other companies who have created web-based tutorial programs use their tutorials to simply explain to students what should have done to get the problem correct. However, LearnBop’s vision of a tutorial is through the lens of the master teacher, who acknowledges the importance of the student designing their own journey to a correct solution.
If students initially respond incorrectly to a question, does the master teacher just tell students what should have been done to work the problem correctly? No. Instead, the master teacher begins asking a series of advancing questions, allowing students to organize their own thinking step-by-step so that a path toward a correct solution comes into view.
As LearnBop authors, our challenge is to replicate what the master teacher does in the classroom when a student is incorrect: we just keep asking advancing questions and providing supporting material in the form of hints, until we feel the student is ready to attack the original problem again. LearnBop tutorials don’t “tell”, but instead they simply say, “Come with me, I’ve got something I want you to see for yourself.” Yes, it’s the kitten story all over again.
My biggest success as a teacher has been that I never lost sight of the task before me. There are so many negative things that can happen to a teacher in a typical day that it’s easy for a teacher to despair and question her career choice. As a teacher, I encourage you to never lose sight of all that is good in your classroom. Never allow anyone or anything to rob you of your passion, discourage you from learning, or convince you that you can no longer make a difference. Remember, you are a teacher because this career has chosen you!