An Extra-ordinairy Teaching Moment

I had a moment today.  Occasionally I use that expression to mean I forgot something but in this case what I mean is that when I was teaching there was a moment where I was outstanding or I suppose where the class was.  That kind of moment that as a teacher you can live off for for weeks.  I as a person have these moments outside the classroom much more often then in.  Someone recognizes something I have been working on, someone asks me to do something extra and these things are great but the moments in the classroom are so thick and full of pride that the words I am using to describe them are not are even remotely adequate.

My morning went like this… Found out my computer has lost a quiz I made in SMART notebook as the Assistant Dean for Academics (guy who hired me) walks in to unexpectedly observe.  I make a joke about redoing it during morning reports.  He is not amused.  The first half of the class goes fine. Nothing special just a normal Geometry period even a little quiet as it is eight on a friday.  Then he leaves.  We have, at this point, talked about the journal entry they have due on Monday and gone over (had students put up the solutions for) the homework.

I know I want to work on this one problem from the text so I count them off in pairs and have them go to the back boards and work together on this problem:

Instead of walking along two sides of a rectangular field, Abby took a shortcut along the diagonal.

(a) Let a be the short side, b be the long side, and c her path length.  Write an equation that relates these variables.

(b) By taking the shortcut along the diagonal, Abby can save a distance equal to half of the length of the longer side.  Write an equation that describes this relationship.

(c) Find the length of the long side of the field, given that the length of the short side is 156 meters.

While all 6 pairs are working on the same problem I start to do Sam’s (maybe someone else’s) thing of writing what they are saying on the SMART board but I can’t really make out many of them so after about 7 minutes I stop them and say “Between you and your partner make one of you 1 and the other 2.  Number 1s put your hand on the board.  Number 2 move two partners to the left. Now GO!”  The amazing thing about the girls that we teach is they are willing to do whatever you ask, so they switch and go. After about 5 minutes I have them switch again only this time it is the girls who were number 1’s they move one partner.  At this point no one is working on their own original work.  We switch one more time then two’s find their original partners but not necessarily their original work.

Finally I bring the girls back to debrief.  The first thing they all say is that there was not enough time.  I tell them we have been doing this for 18 minutes.  Their minds are blown.  Now, there are only 2 minutes left of class so we quickly discuss but given the time constraints one of my students takes pictures of the boards and emails them to me.  We’ll go over them on Monday.

“By switching work it made us talk a lot more.  I mean, sometimes it was confusing explaining someone else’s work but usually I found something someone else knew that I didn’t.”  

I feel like a winner.


7 thoughts on “An Extra-ordinairy Teaching Moment

  1. Love it! This is very like something Maria Andersen showed us at the Math & Technology Workshop she hosts in Muskegon, Michigan. I have one class that’s small enough, in a room with enough board space. I should try this. (It’s calc II, so it’s a pretty different level, but I think it can work.)


  2. I am DEFINITELY stealing this, as it appears my middle school seems to be preparing students (the girls anyway) for your high school. This whole “everybody following instructions the first time they are given” kinda messes with your head as an early-stage teacher. 🙂

    More pure genius on your part.

    – Elizabeth (aka @cheesemonkeysf on Twitter)


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