Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Why didn't I think of that?

The last week of the semester we meet one-on-one with teacher assistants in what we call "exit interviews." This is an opportunity to discuss what they have accomplished over the semester and what they plan to work on during student teaching. It also provides a chance for us to learn more about these future teachers. For example, yesterday one said something like:
You might think I'm crazy but I have this big idea that I want to do in my classroom. You know how some students don't have math textbooks? Well, I want to have my students make math books to share with kids in places that don't have math books. What do you think? Crazy, right?
No. Definitely not crazy. I told her about this wonderful talk at TEDxNYED by Alan November and how it describes teachers with a similar vision. I sent her a link to the talk via Twitter and then kind of forgot about it. (The relevant part starts at about 6:00 with Learners Leaving a Legacy.)

But I included my teaching partner, @ProfJonh, in the tweet because he hadn't heard of it and later in the day I saw this:

You see, Jon and I (along with another colleague) are planning on creating materials for one of our math courses for preservice elementary teachers this summer. It never occurred to me to apply this same idea to this course. Now we are talking about having these future teachers create a text for others, perhaps around the Standards of Mathematical Practice.

It does not end there, however. This afternoon we were sharing lunch with another colleague who is scheduled to teach one of our zero-level algebra courses in the fall. She was wondering aloud about what to do with these students - many of whom had already had Algebra II but still struggled with the concepts. I brought up my concern that we sometimes address these students from a deficit perspective instead of looking to build on their strengths. Again, Jon piped in, "What if you have them make their own textbook?"

Now why didn't I think of that? Having these students write an algebra text for students back in their high schools provides both an audience and purpose for their work. They know where kids like themselves struggle in math so maybe they can come up with a book that uses a different approach. Besides, any teacher will tell you that teaching material helps you to learn it. Brilliant!

I am excited about where this is headed but mostly I am grateful: grateful that our future teacher took a risk and shared her idea; grateful that Alan November shared the idea of learners leaving a legacy; and grateful that Jon has kept reminding me of that idea. It is why I think social media outlets like Twitter and blogs are so important to improving our profession - sharing and reminding one another of the good ideas that are out there.

Keep it up people - and thanks.


  1. I love, love, love this idea.

    I am going to extend it. Our school is partnered with a school in Mombassa, Kenya. We are currently working on improving their educational resources. They have literally one textbook for every five students, and they all huddle around to share the textbooks, and they aren't even allowed to take the textbooks out of class.

    My thought is, what if our students produced books for their classes, and then we use a self-publishing system to create physical copies of the books fairly cheaply?


  2. This idea is not new - I recall having read about a science teacher engaging his students to create a science Y8 textbook about two years ago.
    I loved it back then and thought about ways to make it happen in my class. I struggled though with a teacher's currency: time. I teach primary and the kids are still developing skills that are already mastered by older students (from basic to digital literacy skills) so I found it hard to choose such a project over their need for time. I know the very making of the textbook IS learning - it involves thinking, reflection, collaboration and self-management skills but it would still impact the time my students would have for their inquiry.

  3. This task is exactly what I was asked to do in a Math Inquiry Course at Gordon College. Here's the link to what we did.