August 17, 2012

Summer Learning, something new!

Summer school has such a negative connotation. It is most well known as a place for the students who just didn't cut it through the year - remedial learning. The image of students reluctantly dragging their heels and sitting in a bunch of fixed desks while the sunny days loom outside, comes to mind. Remember the movie "Breakfast Club"? Well, my experience this summer teaching for 3 weeks for 3 hours each day, was much different than expected; mind you I was teaching a group of 8 and 9 year olds, not high school students. 

The most interesting thing for me was that I was in charge of creating my own curriculum for grade 3 math. So I packed up my boxes with games, art activities and posters...and I packed way too much! We didn't exactly cover what I thought we might, but most teachers I know over plan too:) The main challenge was not the material, but how I was going to get kids excited about math in the summer! I had wondered how I would create a fun and welcoming environment for them, especially when I have been pursuing the idea of year-long themes and units in my regular classroom. 3 weeks is a completely different time-line and I was unsure what it would look like and how I would meet my goals.

Each day was structured in the same way, mainly because I didn't know who the kids were that I was getting, and this would provide a certain level of comfort for them and me as we got to know each other. The students arrived at 9am, recess at 10:30am and dismissal at 12pm. It was apparent from the first day that about half the students were excited to be there and the other half were sent there by their parents. Regardless, as the days progressed I noticed that my students would all rush in at the morning bell with smiles on their faces, ready to learn! 

Week 1 was dedicated to number operations, week 2 to geometry, and week 3 to measurement. I would start the day with a challenge question or activity that I called "Brain teasers". So there was always something unexpected within the expected structured. I believe I sparked their curiosity through this because they would come in, grab their math books (that we had made) and started to work out the morning's problem together. Usually we completed a bit of what I called "skill work" before recess. I found that they were usually willing to do a bit of this if I kept it to short chunks. , After recess we would play a group game such as battleship, cards, dominoes, yahtzee. This is where I worked with them on the concept of chance and uncertainty. We would also work on math-art activities (I intend to show some of these this year in other posts when I teach geometry this year to my regular class).

I had such positive feedback from the students and I think that I changed something about how they see math, it is much more than a bunch of worksheets and tasks to fulfill. I also know that it has changed something about how I see math potentially working in my regular classroom. I may dedicate a day or time each day to math games, problems, art or learning about mathematicians in history. Typically I work through a unit with my students and try to go for depth within that unit. I still see this as important, but I like how the summer learning unfolded, by giving students small chunks of time each day to work out a variety of problems and experience the breadth of math concepts and how they work together. I will enter the new school year with a new perspective.

So why would a teacher want to work more with kids in the summer? Well I enjoy working with kids, and I usually need a bit of income to make it through the summer. Other years I have coached soccer camps or I have worked for a friend of mine painting houses. I did the math, and I would have to work for about 20 hours painting (which is really taxing on the body) to make the same amount that I do in one 3 hour summer school day. So mathematically it just made more sense, and I would gladly do it again next year!