Breaking the Mold: Thrice

The Pippens compared our culture to other cultures. For example, in Japan, teachers rotate classrooms and students stay in the same rooms all day. When the teacher enters, the students stand, bow, and say "Please teach me." When the teacher leaves, they stand, bow, and say "Thank you for teaching me." In Japan, if you fail at math, it is a disgrace to your family. Also, schools do not have janitors. The students take care of the cleaning. Schools only have core classes, no electives like choir or art. Those classes are taken outside of, or in addition to the regular school day. Yes, their students may be better in science and math, but they are envious of the creative talents of our US students.

The main features of the US culture toward education are:
  • Enables helplessness
  • Believes students should not struggle
  • Expect teachers to make the work easier for students
  • Does not support thinking by students
  • Values speed and class participation – does not fit the styles or comfort of all students
  • Other cultures know that struggling is a part of learning
  • Teachers’ roles are to set the stage for thinking with appropriate tasks and discussion

The Pippens mentioned that in every country, all schools follow a script. Universally, it's not the same, but each country does have it's own script. I'm posting two of the slides (I'll post the entire powerpoint at the end of this series of posts) below to compare what it has always been like in the US (top) to what we should transition to (bottom).

Notice the first thing that is missing: Check homework. Why not check homework? Possibly because we are no longer assigning homework? Hm. More practice is meaningless if it's the same thing over and over. We should strive to make homework assignments purposeful. The goal in the new script is to practice enough during class that meaningless practice is unnecessary but if it is needed in order to understand the content, the students will be more likely to do it. In the case of homework, we obviously want to check it which can easily be done during the opener.

The opener is a good place to review yesterday's learning or to embed concepts that need to be reviewed for today's content. From there comes the hook, the picture, phrase, problem that intrigues them, makes them curious, invests them in solving the problem (aka the hardest part to create). Next is the discovery. This is where we need to let students explore and experiment and figure out on their own what we could easily tell them. Then we practice figuring it out. And we give feedback on the practice. Remediate. And we repeat. Closer: Sum up what we learned, debrief, point out errors, etc.

One thing I learned about was prime time. Prime time is where students are paying the most attention. This happens at the beginning and end. Students are paying attention because things are just starting and they want to see what's up and then at the end because they know they are almost done. By switching activities every 15 minutes or so, you are increasing the amounts of prime time, which = more engaged student. Happy dance!

So lesson planning begins to look like this:

Of course, engagements should transition into each other and not be disjointed activities. One way to transition into new activities is by doing brain breaks. I was excited to hear them mention Dave Sladkey from Naperville and his brain breaks book since I am a reader of his blog. They even showed us the ABC news video that Dave mentions in this blog post. There is so much I could say about the brain breaks but luckily, Dave has already done it. Check out his blog for ideas, descriptions, and video clips. The most important type of brain break is where students cross over the midline and back. You will notice a lot of the activities include doing the same thing forwards and backwards or left and right. This is crossing the midlines which may help improve students' math abilities. This is logical to me because math is working forwards and backwards and manipulating things left and right.

Activities. I have a whole nother post coming up on all the activities we tried and discussed. What I want to mention here though, are the characteristics of effective activities. I think I've mentioned a lot of these already, but feel free to ask questions about anything.
  • Individual accountability
  • Group interdependence
  • Feedback
  • Time limit
  • Debrief with whole class
  • Not graded
  • Pause/Stop activity at any time
  • Practice/model expectations for procedure
  • Use an activity no more than once per chapter
Wait Time. After asking a question, have students raise their hand when they think they know the answer. Then call on someone. Ask other students individually if they agree or disagree with that person's answer and why. Don't repeat the student's answers! Make them listen to each other. In the absence of your teacher voice, they will pay attention. We want to begin to develop an environment of peer pressure, not teacher pressure. Where students will begin to motivate each other to listen, think, respond. Once a students begins to answer, don't cut them off. When they are done, give students time to process what others say and formulate their own responses. Also, give students time to take notes or write things down and then time to process, they can't think and write at the same time.

When given a choice, students will almost always choose to disengage. Students choose whether or not tu tune in, answer the teacher's questions, or take notes. Don't give them a choice. Activities where students are exchanging partners, standing up, moving around the room, asking questions, trading papers, etc all make it obvious who is not participating. Again, peer pressure, not teacher pressure to keep students involved, engaged, and hopefully, learning!

To be continued...again!


  1. I think maybe now I know why my students were claiming a sub "made them do wind sprints." Would that be what "crossing the midline" would look like to them?

  2. LOL Definitely possible. Of course the benefit of brain breaks to the teacher is that they get to watch the students look extremely silly. Even better if you get to see teachers doing it!

  3. Keep in mind that the tips are meant to improve a teacher driven classroom.

    Think about doing something that you love and having to stop every 15 minutes!!!!

    You have to break boring things into 10-15 minute segments...not amazingly interesting things ;) And maybe instead of peer pressure to keep things boring things interesting, we can just do.... amazingly interesting things ;)

    Think of something that you love to do...do you need peer pressure to keep you on task.

    Most "methods" are meant to simply plays with kids minds so that they pay attention to something they previously did not want to. We should all simply spend more time letting them do amazingly interesting things within our content areas. They aren't paying attention because we aren't breaking things into ten minute segments, that is not the core of the problem.

  4. The core of the problem is I have not been trained to portray math as an amazingly interesting thing. I'm not smart enough to figure it out on my own and I'm not learning from others quick enough to use in the classroom at this point. So yes, my class is teacher driven, and yes I will take any tips to keep them engaged until I can figure out how to make them care on their own.

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  6. Hi,
    Math is one of the boring subject but, if the teacher and his or her teacher style is good he or she can make this boring subject interesting. Thanks for sharing these points.

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