By Fatimah Hinds, Middle School Teacher
We are well into the groove of the school year. Students have routines and procedures, which they follow without much prompting. Once all of the organizational stuff of the new year was done, we were able to get down to the business of learning.
I have the pleasure of teaching two different subjects to two different grades which means my days have varied content, objectives, and activities. We fill their days with learning, reading, laughing, outside time, and technology. There’s never a dull moment around here.
In 7th grade Astronomy we have used a combination of hands-on activities, our textbook, classical music and a sprinkle of Curious George to introduce the students to the universe in which we live. The students use technology to research topics, to word process, and to create presentations; all skills that will be of use as they continue their educational journey and into their working lives. These various resources and opportunities to interact with the material has prompted some great discussions about the future of the planet (What happens if the sun explodes?!), questions about how scientific discoveries change what we learn and consider to be fact (Why is Pluto a dwarf planet now?), and what’s next for space exploration (How and when can we visit Mars?). The kids are thoughtful, funny, and engaged.
In my section of 7th grade Algebra we began with learning the history of math. We do so much with math and numbers in our everyday life that it made sense to do a deep investigation of where it all began. This lesson was a great opportunity to connect with other subjects. Students got to combine their knowledge of culture from social studies and map reading from geography with various math advances from around the world.
We began with the simple act of counting, to how numbers were written, and continued on to when the addition sign was first used (around 1600 CE in case you are wondering). We got to see how math is a competition for some cultures, the basis for most business endeavors, how numbers were not always universal and how that impacts us today, and even how math can be translated into beautiful works of art. The students have seen math in a new light and that was amazing to watch.
Lastly, in my section of 8th grade Algebra we like to have fun! There are so many ways to convey the same information and we’ve taken this time to explore several of them. Students put their critical thinking skills to work by solving complex algebra puzzles where they must find the value of pictures based on their arrangement in an equation.
Afterwards they created colorful puzzles of their own which we shared with the other math teachers. From there we’ve used graphing, modeling, and tables to solve real world problems like ‘How much will it cost to make fruit salad based on the different prices of the fruits?’ and ‘How many months will it take a small business to turn a profit after all of it’s start up costs are paid?’ These questions give the students space to be creative but also to connect their school work to their everyday lives and their families lives. I love to hear what they come up with and see how they think outside the box.
My goal when I am teaching is help students learn to approach a problem with the concept of ‘right or wrong’ being secondary. After getting to know each other we’ve built trust such that we are a community of learners who exchange ideas and theories. My classroom is a space to make mistakes (me too), ask questions, and do our best work. All of these experiences lead to a robust discourse and deeper understanding of the world around us.