I recently came across Cathy Seeley's article "Turning Teaching Upside Down" in ASCD's Education Leadership. The article struck a chord with me because it supported the work and research that RPS teachers of math are engaging in. The ultimate goal is for our RPS teachers of math, and all teachers for that matter, is to use teaching practices that help our students become flexible thinkers who are empowered to take on the many unknown challenges in their future. To accomplish this goal, RPS teachers of math use a pedagogical approach in which the traditional teaching method is turned on its head. The table below is a quick visual of the difference in pedagogy. As you scan the table, notice that the upside down teaching method "You do, we do, I do" is inverse to the traditional teaching method "I do, we do, you do".
So why is Upside-Down Teaching the necessary pedagogical method for fostering students who are willing and able to be problem solvers? Sometimes, the use of analogy is a powerful tool for describing a concept or practice. In this time of harvest, let's use a corn maze analogy to help us compare the traditional teaching practice to the upside down teaching practice.
A Hypothetical Corn Maze Competition
As you likely know, corn mazes are giant puzzles that have dead ends and multiple pathways where people can often get lost. To prevent the adventurers from getting permanently lost, farmers provide a map of the maze. For many people, the greatest satisfaction comes in conquering the maze without the use of the map.
Imagine that two teams are practicing how to navigate corn mazes and will participate in a corn maze competition at the end of the growing season. The coaches know that on the day of the competition, the students will need to navigate a unique maze without the use of a map. The coaches’ have a choice as to how or when to use maps in practice.
As you read the practice schedules, think about the parameters of the maze competition and ask:
The coaches provide the format for practice and specific instructions for participates as follows:
So how are the teachers of math in RPS working to create “A-Mazing” students?
Many RPS teachers are using short daily exercises such as number talks to help our students feel increasingly comfortable in solving math problems and to validate individual student thinking. Number Talks use Upside-Down Teaching to foster a can do student mindset. Think of Number Talks as short math problem (loop in the maze) that takes about 10 minutes for students to navigate. The students find their own solution and then describe how they found their answer to the rest of the group. Number talks happen almost daily and are meant to foster students who are more confident and comfortable solving new math problems (entering the maze).
We are actively engaged in a teacher workshop to find Rich Mathematical Tasks (Mazes) for our students to navigate. Our teachers use Upside-Down Teaching when helping our students to navigate through the rich task (Maze). The strength of the rich task is in the discussions that students use to see all of the paths through a real world problem and to more deeply understand the concepts being studied. It is analogous to seeing the maze and its beauty in entirety.
Finally, we are working through articulation to align our curriculum with a focus on prioritized learnings to answer which concepts in the overall mathematical universe are worth our attention. It is analogous to deciding which mazes or sections of mazes are worth our attention. Articulation is about making sure that our students are flexible thinkers who are empowered to take on the many unknown challenges in their future. It is analogous to our students knowing how to navigate mazes, not about our students knowing a specific maze.
In Summary, the math teachers in RPS are in the middle of a process that is moving towards a new scope and sequence while developing a new and different pedagogical method in mathematics instruction. There are many RPS teachers using Upside-Down teaching in RPS. If you would like to increase your practice with Upside-Down teaching, enlist the help of a colleague or instructional coach who is experienced in its practice. By incorporating more Upside-Down teaching in your practice, you will open the eyes of your students to discover deeper connections and different pathways to mathematical success.
This post brought to you by Dan Devine, Secondary Implementation Associate
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