Discussion between Colleagues
What is your philosophy of teaching mathematics?
I think math should be engaging and related to daily life. I don’t think students see how they can use math in their daily life. I use a variety of manipulatives in my teaching. I’m a kinesthetic learner, so I know how important the hands-on experiences can be for students. Math is very abstract; it has to be made so that students can “see it.”
What are the preferred learning styles of your students? How do you accommodate for these styles?
My students love to work together, especially at the end of the school year when they become very social. I try to do auditory, kinesthetic, and lots of visual to accommodate all types of learners in my class. So even if the method I’m using does not align with the student’s strength, I want to provide many ways of approaching the subjects I teach so as to stretch the students’ capabilities to learn in many ways.
Do you lecture at times?
Yes, I lecture at times, but the majority of my teaching isn’t lecturing. I like students to work together, to share ideas, to move freely around the room, to do hands-on things, and to communicate with each other. I like a lot of things, like classroom rules, to come from them. I like them to have ownership. In this project my students were very self-directed. That’s my goal, and I work on that. My goal is that they could run the classroom without me.
Many cultures under one quilt. How did that title come about?
I told the students that we’d want to find a name for our quilt and we’d brainstorm and share all their ideas. I provided chart paper on which I wrote all their suggestions. We talked about the meaning of the quilt and its connections to math and social studies. I asked them if all cultures were the same, and, of course, they agreed that there are many cultures. From the discussion emerged the idea that even though we are many cultures, we are one class. I wanted the class to see that our quilt wouldn’t be as beautiful if all the blocks came together or as incomplete if any one block was left out. Each culture has a contribution, brings a special story.
How does this lesson fit into your general curriculum?
Both the mathematics and the social studies concepts are part of the fourth-grade curriculum in our district.
Why did you decide to teach this unit?
Well, besides the obvious connection to the Ohio history topics, I welcomed the opportunity to open my students’ minds to a multicultural perspective. My school really doesn’t focus on diversity issues, and maybe we should. We are in a part of the state where new people are moving to each week. There can be conflict between the “natives” and the newcomers. I thought that this project would open my students’ eyes to the value of diversity and promote acceptance of people who were a little different from them.
Explain what you do in the lesson in the light of the cultural makeup of your students?
Through the social studies aspect of the unit, I wanted my students to research a country of origin of their ancestors. I gave them a choice. Because I had a diverse population in my classroom, I couldn’t just pick one country for the students to research. I wanted the math and social studies lessons to have a connection to the students, to have meaning to their lives. If I had required that they make their quilt blocks and do their reports about one country, they would not have been able to make a personal connection with the lessons or achieve understanding.
Are there any teaching practices that you consistently apply based on the culture of your students? Please describe these and give an example of each.
I pick local examples to illustrate the concepts in science and social studies that we teach in the curriculum. This unit had wonderful tie-ins to Ohio history As far as teaching practices go, I hold my students to high standards and push each student to reach his/her potential. I really do believe that all students can learn and see my job as making learning happen for all. For me, their culture is the sum total of all the variables that make up their worldview (gender, race/ethnicity, religion, exceptionalities, etc.). The worldview of my students is shaped by their ethnicity, their small-town world, their family values, and the like. So, for me it’s important to know who they are and to make my teaching relevant to their lives. This project really gave me new insights into each student’s worldview
What would you keep and/or change the next time you teach this lesson?
I would ask the students to make their quilt block even more particular to their own family background. Some of the students asked their grandparents for specific information about how they came to this country. I would encourage more of that conversation and look for special family stories or symbols to be incorporated into the quilt. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful way to bridge the generations and make the project even more engaging for the children?
What would you do differently if you taught this lesson to students of a different culture?
Most of what I did wouldn’t be different at all. I would still give the students a choice of the country they researched and incorporate the same math concepts. Because of the varied learning approaches in the unit, student learning styles would not pose a problem. Because there’s so much choice and the lesson is so open, it is transportable to any setting, a large city school, a rural school, and so forth.
How do you generally assess students?
I use a variety of assessments—observations, questioning, written tests. When I use tests in the teachers’ manual, I adapt them by shortening them, changing items to fit my students and the way I taught the lesson, or eliminating some items all together. Sometimes I ask proficiency-type questions on each unit test. I share the rubric for grading 2- and 4-point questions so they can see how the questions will be graded. I ask them to grade sample questions according to the rubric so they can understand better how to answer those types of questions when it really counts. Then I have them self-evaluate their own work.
What recommendations would you make to a teacher who is about to begin teaching in your school?
Our school is low functioning in math, with approximately 60% of our fourth-graders rated as proficient in math. Most of the teachers at the school have taught in the building for a long time and therefore know how to help our students. Many were born and raised in the local area. In the past, teachers coming here from other parts of the state or from other parts of the country would have had a harder time fitting into the school. Nowadays, a teacher’s qualifications and his/her ability to do a good job for the children are looked at when someone is hired. A new teacher would be watched to see if he/she meets the high expectations of the community. Our community wants the very best teachers for its children and likes it when someone from the area returns to teach in the local school. In days past, new teachers from outside would have had to prove themselves. But with development and expansion in the area, people here are more accepting of newcomers and of change. I suspect this is the reality in many Midwestern towns.
Update on Diane
Are you still teaching?
Yes, I am still a fourth-grade teacher.
Do you still teach this unit?
I would if I were teaching math. I no longer teach the unit because I only teach language arts. What do you think of the Common Core?
I believe that Common Core is a good thing. Having common standards makes teaching a lot easier because so many resources for teachers have been developed that make planning and differentiation easier. For example, the site, Teachers Pay Teachers, encourages educators to share their original work, some of which are for free [https://wwwteacherspayteachers.com/]. However, I do have an issue with its testing. I don’t believe a teacher or student should be evaluated by one test.
Diane Christopher Buckeye Intermediate School 3140 Columbia Rd.
Medina, OH 44256