You know what happens next. Pew-pew-pew, stormtroopers vs. Alliance soldiers. Dust settles, bulkhead door swipes open, and we meet Vader for the first time. You don’t need to be any kind of genius to know he is A Bad Guy. And just like that, the scene is set. You’re hooked….
There’s a lot of good work being done out there in the area of lesson design. Dan Meyer maps out the Three-Act Math Task here. I’ve taken my cues from him, as well as from the Undisputed Master Of The Presentation:
The common thread is “The Hook” – how teachers pull their students into a lesson, how a sales pro gets face time with a prospect.
In Matt Miller’s “Ditch That Textbook”, the hook to the next 219 pages is a Nightmare In Real Life, or as close as most teachers get.
Students running out the door. Not because of a fire alarm, a swarm of bees, or a fight. Nope. Running out the door, at the bell. Just restless kids, sprung from a mind-numbing 48 minutes of lecture and practice exercises from a worksheet. The kind of class that even bores the teacher.
I can imagine. Although I don’t have to imagine it. Because I’ve been there. I’ve been The Invisible Man to a group of kids who would rather do anything else and be anywhere else. So has just about every other teacher ever. It sucks. Miller says he knew there had to be a better way to teach. He eventually developed a model for deciding what and how to teach: Different, Innovative, Tech-Laden, Creative, Hands-On. (“DITCH”. Get it?).
Actually, truth be told, I had already bought in. Miller doesn’t need to sell me on The Why. And even though I’ve implemented these concepts into my teaching, I’m always open to some help on The How.
Interestingly enough, Miller doesn’t start with a list of “14 Apps You Should Be Using In Your Classroom Right Now”. He first suggests ditching the mindset of 19th-Century Industrial Model education. The middle section of the book begins with reminders to make it personal, add fun and magic, to build relationships, and to win over students. Only then does he start talking tech.
And even then: Not everything has to be techy. Surprised by this admonition from a guy who is best known for using tech to figuratively knock down the walls of his rural west-central Indiana high school? Don’t be. Miller is a teacher, with the scars to prove it.
Is pencil-paper best? As Miller points out, that 45 minutes (or however long your class period lasts) is sacred. If you take a half-hour to get computers issued, booted up, kids logged on and then a quick formative assessment done, well, you were better off with mini-whiteboards or notebook paper. The ROI for the tech was way too low. Miller calls it “choosing task over tool” (Chapter 13).
I had this displayed for me vividly the year I had a student teacher. I wanted to seamlessly integrate some tech, to model some of my “go-to”s for her. Except I hadn’t “gone-to” in a while. I set up a quick poll using Poll Everywhere, but had forgotten to have it display real-time results. So after the kids took out their phones, made their votes, probably started checking their FB feeds, we sat their and stared at a screen full of… no results.
Instead, I got to model how to gracefully dump out of a plan that wasn’t working. We did a poll by show of hands instead, tallied the results on the chalkboard, and moved on.
My other big takeaway came in Chapter 15: Choose To Cheat. We live in a world where cheaters really do win, where it seems like the ends always justify the means, and what’s legal is really defined by “what I can I do and not get caught”. But for teachers, “cheating” is a dirty word. So again, Miller uses words to grab the reader’s attention. He means “cheating” in the sense that there are only 30 hours in a day. Something is gonna have to be left undone. The teacher’s job is to figure out what things go above the “done” line and what falls below. And how to maximize the impact.
I’ve read plenty of TFA stuff. I’ve seen the movies. The Super-Teacher shames the rest of us. In real-life tho… I’m just a man. As I tell my students, “Hey, stress me out, I’m gonna go home and have a drink. Make me mad, I’m gonna holler at you. Cut me, I’ll bleed.” I got the same 24 hours everybody else gets today. And I have the same options for spending those hours that everybody else does too. One of the greatest benefits of getting old is knowing that not only can I not “do everything”, but also that I don’t have to do everything. My most trusted advisor will usually let me know when I’ve stretched myself too thin. As Miller says, it’s important to make sure we’re not cheating the people closest to us.
My next One-Man Book Club read is Classroom Chef by Matt Vaudrey and John Stevens. Both those guys tweeted this week that they would be skipping Twitter Math Camp (a huge #MTBoS love-fest) where they would be Rock Stars among rock stars. Both gave the same reason: their kids. That’s what Miller is talking about. Then extending that mindset to the classroom.
It’s really just setting priorities: what’s most important right now? Grading every single question on every activity? Or finding ways throughout the week to assess (formally or informally) what students know and can do?
How can I use this? Let’s cede the floor to Miller (pg. 89):
So I use themed bellringers throughout the week. There’s math in there, there’s common sense in there, there’s opportunities to justify your thinking in there (SMP #2, 3, and 4 everyday!). My review day before a quiz might be a practice quiz, it might be speed dating, it might be a Kahoot! game. Eventually, everybody gets what they need. Tech or no tech. The bigger question is: am I using all the weapons I have at my disposal in the service of teaching and learning?
I’m getting there.
Part 2 coming soon, in which Miller lays out the Xs and Os of powering up the classroom: A Home For Your Stuff, Creating Content, Going Global, Jump In And Try.