The title of this post is the tagline for Twitter Math Camp (Yes, that’s a thing). What people love about this conference is that the presenters are typically classroom teachers, sharing their best practices. There is real power in hearing about something from a colleague who actually does it successfully.
During the conference, I had numerous conversations with people who talked about their disdain for those outside experts who come in with their theory and crazy ideas and tell us how to teach. There was always an uncomfortable pause when I would divulge that in my regular role, I’m one of those guys. As a consultant, I’m often that outside person coming in to help teachers grow. Fortunately, I’m rarely offended by exchanges like that, because I often said the same thing while I was teaching.
I’d like to make a case for what I do, because there’s power in consulting done effectively. I’ll reframe what I do to give some unsolicited formative feedback to TMC presenters, if I may.
As a consultant, I have time that classroom teachers don’t have to research. I read a lot about education (Books, journals, blogs) so I learn about the theory (and curriculum and standards). When I do workshops, I do my best to connect the theory (and curriculum and standards) to practice . It’s not always possible, and sometimes I deliberately leave it to teachers to make their own connections to their own practice in their own unique situations. Sometimes that drives them nuts. When I quote experts in my sessions, I tend to start with the bloggers who are actually using the strategies I share. Then I go sarcastically to the “real experts”, which are the people who are not teaching, but write books. Both kinds of experts are valuable.
I do demo lessons and lesson studies with teachers. I’m in classrooms a great deal. Sometimes I try things that fail. I’m open about that. Sometimes I try things that work. I’m open about that, too. I rarely ask teachers to try things I haven’t tried with success myself. I never ask teachers to try things that I’m skeptical about working.
I went to some really good sessions put on by classroom teachers at TMC. Andy Pethan showed a stats activity that totally engaged me. We had to draft an Ultimate Frisbee team based on a set of statistics that we could analyze how we saw fit. Then he used a simulator that he built to have our teams compete. I loved it. I want another crack at that simulator. Defence has to win championships, even in a sport I know nothing about.
Update: In the comments below, Andy provides this link to the code for his simulator. Now I can get my second crack at it! https://sites.google.com/a/byron.k12.mn.us/stats/projects/ultimate-frisbee-draft/simulator.
Keep your eye on Andy. This guy needed an engaging activity and wrote one, including coding his own Ultimate Frisbee simulator. That’s a cool skill set. He’s going to do neat stuff.
So finally, here’s my formative feedback for TMC presenters. The practices you shared were fantastic. Very few of you connected those practices to theory (and to curriculum and standards). What you did would have been even better if you took just a few minutes to tie it all together. In your presentations, get all consultanty. Just keep that part short.
What impressed me most was the age of some of the presenters. These are young teachers who are not afraid to share their craft with others. That bodes well for the future of education.
I wish it were easier to have more flexible roles for education leaders — teach for part of the year, consult / develop software / write curriculum for the other part — so more of us became well rounded with theory, development, and daily teaching practice.
I’d like more theory also, but I don’t need someone to stand up and tell us that their lesson is an example of embodied cognition or to cite von Glasersfeld or whatever. What I need to know is where they’re coming from. What they look for in a good lesson. What makes a good lesson good for them. What would make their good lesson bad. That’s the kind of theory I need – a personal, theoretical framework.