Friday, February 13, 2015

The WOW factor: Guest blogger Tod Martin reflects on Math, Common Core, and Kids

Often times I hear a negative connotation when the word mathematics is brought up with students, parents, and even other educators. This is especially true with the Common Core State Standards. Many people see math as a negative. A high percentage of people think Common Core is a negative. This is what I love about math: When you multiply two negatives you always get a positive. You may ask, “How can I make math positive? How can I make my students like my class?” It comes down to how you approach the subject you teach. Here is my take on how to make a classroom truly AWESOME.

Attitude: Attitudes are contagious. Being in a classroom, we have the choice whether to spread positive vibes or negative vibes.The first step to making something positive and enjoyable is attitude. So much of the problem is a bad attitude. The first thing we need to do is adjust our own attitudes. Kids feed off of our attitudes. I am blessed to work with a co-worker that comes into the room everyday with a positive uplifting attitude and it instantly has an effect on the room. What we have to do is go into the classroom with a “can do” attitude that hopefully our students will react to. Having a positive attitude sets the stage for success.

“WOW” Factor: Just like in a great magic show, you need a “Wow” factor that will grab everyone’s attention. When covering a concept in class, explore it deeply and discover its wow factors. An example of a “wow” factor that my students were totally mind blown over was how division is multiplication backwards. We cram a lot of information into kids' heads everyday. They won’t remember everything we tell them, but they will remember the wow factors. I bet we can all look back on our own educational experiences and remember a wow factor such as dropping pumpkins out of a two story window or making rockets out of two liter bottles and launching them off. A simple way of explaining division for me was a major wow factor for my students. When you see the expression on a child’s face of amazement when they make a connection in the classroom, you get your own little wow factor.

Effective: Everything that we do in the classroom has to be effective for the kids we have. Lessons have to be designed to fit the needs of our kids. Feedback has to be given in a way that is effective for that student. If our day is not designed around the interests and needs of each kid, is it really going to be effective? Being an effective teacher does not mean that your class all got an A+ on the test. Being effective means that each child left school that day with something meaningful to them. This could be in the form of a wow factor, it could be a hug when you greeted them that morning, a full meal at lunchtime, or an off the wall fact that they can’t wait to share with their parents. We need to rethink how we measure our own effectiveness. Are we doing what's best for the kids that we have? If we are then we can consider our job as effective.

Support: In education, a buzz word is scaffolding. I like this word because I feel that it is something that every human needs. It doesn’t matter what walk of life we are in, everyone at some point will need support. Someone who can help raise them up to a new level of success. Our students need our support. If we open ourselves up and make ourselves available to be that support, more students will succeed not only in our classroom, but in life. If you have ever spent any time in a public school system, you know the clientele we see. A lot of kids have no real support system outside of school. I have to remind myself that not all kids go home and have someone that will check their homework, read them a book, or help study their flashcards. I have to be a support for their learning. If I can do this, my students will know that they can count on having a person of support who will be there to simplify concepts when they are too complicated or to challenge them to think deeper and push themselves higher.

Opportunity for Success: Success is something that every student desperately needs and wants in school. It is something that every student deserves. The successes that each student achieves varies on their ability levels. Success for some students is reaching up into the next grade level for a challenge and proving that they are capable. Success to another student may be studying their heart out and getting a C+ on a test, but that C+ is better than what they were capable of a week earlier. I watched a video earlier this week that said it best. The video talked about what teachers make. Here is a quote from the video: “I can make a C+ feel like the Congressional Medal of Honor.”(Video) We need to recognize these successes, no matter how small we think them, because a small success to us may be the greatest thing to ever happen to that child. That success may be the difference in a child unlocking the door to the untapped potential that will determine how far he/she goes in life. To have an awesome classroom, each child needs to have that opportunity for success each day. Kids should be able to walk out of the classroom and feel confident because in some way that day, they were successful.

Meaningful Experiences: To go along with the “WoW” factors, the educational experiences in a classroom need to be meaningful. I hear a lot of students ask the age old question, “Why do we have to learn this?” It's okay to be honest and explain how relevant the information is to them and how it will help them in the real world. If kids are able to make a connection between the curriculum and their own lives, it will become meaningful and important to them. It is not easy to do anything that is meaningless. If there is no purpose, there is no drive to succeed. I try to connect with my students and make each experience and lesson meaningful to them. Students are more apt to remember a lesson if it has meaning to them.

Excitement: To make a class truly AWESOME, there has to be some excitement. Long gone are the days that we stand in front of a class for an hour and lecture while they take notes. That’s BORING!! One of the biggest lessons I have learned is that it is okay to be a little silly. It's okay to inject humor into a lesson. It's okay to jump up on a desk and show that I am excited about coming to work everyday and that I am excited about Math. A teacher that has left a lasting impression on me did so because I could see the passion and excitement he had everyday to be teaching. If we are able to let our guard down just a little, the students will be more comfortable in the classroom environment. The best phrase that has ever been said to me while teaching was when a child stated that they were “excited” to come to school today because of my class. How can we make kids excited? If you answer this question and inject it into your classroom, I can guarantee that you yourself will find that you to are excited to be there.

Well, there you have it. I haven’t seen it all, been everywhere, or done everything, but what I have experienced has led me to this belief: We can not control everything that is going on with every student outside the school walls, but everyday we open our classroom doors we have a choice. What kind of experience is each child going to have in my classroom today? 

I choose to try my best to make everyday AWESOME!

Submitted by: Tod Martin, 3rd grade teacher Conesville Elementary, River View LSD
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Tod Martin
Third Grade teacher @Conesville! Growing students and creating lifelong learners is my ultimate goal!