Sunday, January 5, 2014

Teacher of the year uses smartboards and hands-on group work!

In the course of my Comments of the Year bonanza, I got behind on the end-of-2013 news, including an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer on one of the winners of the 2013 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, chosen by a panel of scientists, mathematicians, and educators. The winner in question is Jenn Basner, a third-grade teacher at Berlin Community School, who, along with the other 101 winners from around the country, received $10,000 from the National Science Foundation.

What makes Basner's teaching so prize-worthy?

First there's her use of smart boards. This, the Inquirer suggests, is the reason why Berlin Borough Superintendent Tony Trongone nominated her in the first place:

He was impressed by how she effectively used technology such as a smartboard to engage her entire class. 
"To do that every day takes a lot of passion and hard work for your craft," Trongone said. "She's the type of teacher I want my children to learn from."
But using a smartboard effectively was only the first step:
After she was nominated for the president's award in 2012, Basner had to complete a grueling application process. She wrote, created, and taught a math lesson on elapsed time, an important but difficult concept for third graders to grasp.
Just how difficult this concept gets is evident in the lesson's culminating assignment:
Students applied what they learned to determine if they arrived at the zoo at 9:30 a.m. and the field show was at 11 a.m., how much time did they have in between.
Luckily, Basner was able to come up with a truly creative and experiential way for students to solve this problem:
Using a hands-on approach as she typically does, Basner employed mini clocks and a fictional trip to the zoo to teach students how to compute elapsed time.
She also employed such innovations as watchfulness, reinforcement, and group activities:
To make sure they caught on, Basner had students work with each other and independently under her watchful eye. She followed up with reinforcement and enrichment in small group sessions.
Math, notably, hasn't been Basner's strongest subject. But, at least when it comes to Basner, this is a not a bug, but a feature:
While she was always a good student, Basner said, she had to work a little harder at math.  So when she sees that "aha moment" on her students' faces, she feels a sense of accomplishment. 
"I love that I am able to teach each student in my classroom something that he will use for the rest of his life," she said.
Speaking of elapsed time, the last time an Inquirer article about the Presidential Award caught my eye predates this blog by one year. So I didn't blog about it; instead, I put it in my book. You'll find a reference to on page 90,  in the opening paragraph to a section entitled "WHY DOES MY CHILD HATE SCHOOL MATH?".


forty-two said...

I gave the elapsed time problem to my homeschooled 2nd grader. We have never done "elapsed time" per se, but she was able to give the correct answer in seconds. Granted, I think my little girl's pretty smart ;), but that still seems awfully easy for 3rd grade, and not remotely worth the amount of fuss used to figure it out.

Anonymous said...


I teach 3rd grade and believe me, that's a first day of unit, expected knowledge sort of question.

In third grade, we're working on going past noon or midnight, across days, and working backward in multi-step problems. For instance: Johnny washed dishes for 25 minutes, read a book for 57 minutes, and went for a 30 minute walk. He finished these activities at 1:12 pm. When did he start?

I won't say everyone gets the right answer, but I'd rather have spent the lesson time she had working toward these kinds of problems than having a pretend zoo trip.

Not to say that I don't use some group or hands-on work. It's often "games" (some are more game like than others!) that work on the basic skills or a difficult to figure out problem that they can work on together (on the floor, using clipboards, so that they can move around some) for a few minutes before we go over it together.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Another mom of a homeschooled 2nd grader here, and another "she got the right answer based on life experience."

I mean, don't other people's kids spend an inordinate amount of time asking "How much longer until X?" from a very young age?

However, the description of this teacher's lesson did manage to fill my homeschoolers with horror as they contemplated the sheer, awful BORINGNESS of having to sit through the lesson you described...

By trying to eliminate drudgery from math class, reformers have just raised drudgery to an art form....

Anonymous said...

"By trying to eliminate drudgery from math class, reformers have just raised drudgery to an art form."

YES! and in addition, by trying to get kids to get a conceptual grasp of elapsed time through this long lesson, the teacher has beaten a dead horse. Kids do understand elapsed time, in their bones, once they've had a few experiences of waiting longer than they want to for something. All they need is some practice in handling elapsed time when more than 60 minutes (or more than one day) is part of the elapsed time.

Cynthia812 said...

The difficult part of the lesson is not solving the problem, it's figuring out how to explain your reasoning in a way that justifies the inordinate amount of time spent on a simple problem. By the way, smart boards are a great tool for third semester calculus (the first and only class I was in that really made effective use of them).