I have several students throughout the day who spend their free periods in my room. They keep their stuff on a table in the corner, stop by between classes to store and retrieve books, or put in headphones and sit in the back doing work. A few kids have open invitations to come in whenever they have a study hall, lunch period or permission from their teachers of record, but there will always be one or two others who stop by to ask if they can stay.
I almost always say yes.
I welcome them to my class for a variety of reasons.
1) These students are all juniors and seniors who come to sit in on 7th and 8th grade classes. I like them to be there working as a conspicuous example of responsible students, setting a precedent for what will be expected of the younger kids as they get older.
2) In a similar vein, I like the upperclassmen to be reminded of what it was like to be 7th and 8th graders, struggling with academic concepts and organization. I want the older kids to see how far they've come since they were in those seats and to appreciate the struggle that they had.
3) I also like for the upperclassmen to see what it's like to be a teacher. Observing a class is a vastly different experience to be a member of it. On numerous occasions, I've noticed a change in the mannerism of the visiting students in response to the behavior (or lack thereof) of the students in the class. There is an element of "he deals with this all day, I'm going to be nicer."
4) It humanizes teachers for the visiting students and helps the class members to remember that we aren't trying to "sneak" anything. I know teachers who are different when there are visitors in the room and I think it lends some credibility to my teaching-style that I remain the same, regardless of who is watching.
5) I LOVE, after covering a concept, being able to point to a senior in the back of the room and ask "in your calculus class, do you still use this thing that we're covering in 7th grade?" Since I know my business, I of course only ask this when I know the answer and can make a solid point about the lasting uses of mathematics
There are a ton of other reasons, but my absolute favorite is "The Epiphany."
I love watching the expressions of upperclassmen who, while watching a 7th grade class, suddenly understand a topic that they previously didn't.
Today's topic for epiphany: The Distance Formula
I don't love the distance formula. I think it takes a fairly basic concept and abstracts it into difficulty for students who are still struggling to understand the basics of algebraic concepts. As a result of this thinking, I've been framing it in a different way. We started by discussing the Pythagorean Theorem, then talking about applications of it. We used it to derive the distance formula, all the while continuing to discuss the segment between two points as the hypotenuse of a right triangle.
Rather than asking them immediately identify the multiple values of x and y, I asked some simple questions.
"How far apart are the x-coordinates? How far apart are the y-coordinates? Could we see those as the legs of a right triangle?"
I didn't think this was a particularly revolutionary idea.
When I looked around the room, I noticed something strange: the two upperclassmen who had been hanging out in the back, listening to music and checking their phones had suddenly perked up. They had moved their desks together, taken out paper and were talking animatedly, but quietly.
I had an inkling of what they were discussing, but asked them to elaborate. They felt bad, thinking they had interrupted and starting apologizing for being disruptive.
"Not at all! I want you to tell the class what you're talking about."
The students (one in Pre-Calc and one in Algebra 2) had never thought about the distance formula in these terms before. This concept, which they had been using for years, finally clicked in a way that worked for them.
After class, they both came up to me, excited to have learned something new. One asked if she could keep coming to my class during her lunch. When I asked her what she found so valuable about it, her list was shockingly similar to the one I wrote above.
I asked her if she would write up her thoughts on observing my class and, if she decides to, I will include it in a future post.
When we talk about spiral review, clearly we need to include topics from years before, revisited and examined in light of new information. We should also be incorporating more connections between older and younger students, having them share strategies and advice.
In Math 7, we had a deep discussion about what it means for something to be "steep." This is a strangely difficult term to define without using technical terms. We approached it by talking about speed, another quality that only exists as the relationship between other units. They were VERY engaged.
Numerous students told me today that I was one of their favorite teachers and that I was one of the nicer ones they've had.
A student who slacked off for the entire marking period and earned himself a 26% spent the last week working insanely hard to make up his work. We had a long conversation after school about choices and the lessons that he learned from the experience of choosing his friends as group mate rather than people with whom he can work productively.
My 8th period ended up in a deep discussion of social justice issues, including homelessness and women's right issues. The group, normally distracted and a bit goofy, were highly engaged and incredibly insightful in their contributions. They can be very empathetic and insightful. I was immensely proud of them.
It was a great day.