Sometimes, a lesson prepared for the students turns out to be a lesson for the teacher as well.
One of my favorite lessons I taught in middle school dealt with exploring the relationship of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. The lesson included colored masking tape and circles of varying sizes, from a dime to a large hula-hoop. Students wrapped colored tape around the circumference, removed the tape, and laid it flat on a surface to measure. Circumference and diameter measurements were placed in a table. Strips of tape were placed on the wall to create a graph. Hearing students articulate that it took a little more than 3 diameters to equal a circle’s circumference always made the extensive lesson prep time well worth my effort.
About 12 years ago, as I finished this favorite lesson of mine, I summarized for the students that a circle’s circumference divided by its diameter always gives us “3 and a little bit more,” and that we call that ratio “pi.” Most students nodded in agreement … except for Connor, who had nodded off to sleep.
During this same semester, Mr. Sneider, a pre-service teacher from a local university, had been observing my classroom once a week. As his observation time was about to end, I asked him to teach a lesson. Surprisingly, he wanted to teach a lesson about circumference. I couldn’t imagine what Mr. Sneider wanted to do that would be more effective than my excellent circumference lesson with hula-hoops and colored masking tape.
And then I heard Mr. Sneider use the words, “Computer Lab.” The computer labs for classroom teachers to use were new at our school that year. I had no clue how a teacher could lead a lesson or maintain control in the computer lab. But I told Mr. Sneider to move forward with the lesson, knowing that if nothing else, at least I would gain some insight on life in this uncharted territory with 28 middle-school students.
Mr. Sneider’s lesson simply required students to use a geometry program installed on the computer to do the following:
- Create 5 different sized circles.
- Measure each circumference and diameter.
- Divide the circumference by the diameter.
Fortunately, Connor was in class the day we went to the computer lab. Connor sat down in front of the computer and immediately became a student I had never seen before. With his face focused on the screen and his fingers flying across the keyboard, Connor constructed circles, calculated ratios, and completed his lesson.
And then it was time for my lesson. Connor came up to me with the paper he had printed from his work. His first words to me were, “Mrs. Barnett, did you know that no matter what size your circle is, if you divide it’s circumference by its diameter you always get 3.14?!”
Although my first impulse was to say, “Remember the colored masking tape?” all I said, was, “Really Connor? Tell me more.” And he did. And I nodded.
In that moment in the computer lab, listening to Connor demonstrating his understanding of an importance concept for the first time, I saw a young man who was motivated to accomplish a task that his teacher had believed was unattainable for him. Since that day, the power of technology to advance learning through differentiated learning strategies, both within and beyond the classroom, has changed this teacher, just like it changed Connor that day long ago. The future is brighter for both of us because we went to the computer lab one day….
A research project sponsored by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (conducted by SRI International) revealed the following about how technology impacts classrooms and students:
- Change in Student and Teacher Roles
- Increased Motivation and Self-Esteem
- Technical Skills
- Accomplishment of More Complex Tasks
- More Collaboration with Peers
- Increased Use of Outside Resources
- Improved Design Skills/Attention to Audience
Research shows that a student can learn twice as fast when working with a tutor. Curent technology, such as the automated tutoring program LearnBop, acts just like a personal tutor to increase the learning potential for each student in a classroom.
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