Monday, August 27, 2012

Drinking and Designs

When I first taught with Erica years ago, she introduced herself to the 6th graders as, "I'm Ms. Gotts-chalk. Just think of me as your teacher who 'gotts chalk'." Clever, clever. I recently ran into a former student of ours from Cherokee Heights in MMSD who said, "I still remember my first day and still have that social studies notebook from 6th grade!" Enduring and endearing, Erica writes about her summer learning experience and the importance of classroom climate. Read on for her insight!

If you look on FB it appears as though I've spent my summer playing video games and taking care of my dog. I did do that but I also took a class that really changed my perspective on teaching and got me excited about starting the year. I also had some awesome late night discussions with my husband that made me think about myself as an educator and my curriculum.

The class I took was an introduction to Developmental Designs. The developmental refers to children's psychological development and reminds us that students - all people really - have 4 primary needs: autonomy, competence, relationship and fun. (If you think about this for all people - family, friends - it may be a way to improve our relationships with them.)

So what was so great about it? I already focus on community building and have been using the TRIBES curriculum for many years. This training helped me think about how important it is to build a classroom climate that is focused on:

1) Acknowledging the social contract. When kids do something that breaks the rules they are really breaking our social contract - or what it takes for all of us to meet those needs. This way of "discipline" focuses on increasing students' self awareness and seems smart and respectful. I mean I have never really told the kids what will happen if they are sent out of class and how it will be when they return. Or I've never told them that sometimes I might use nonverbal cues to help them stay focused or whatever. I mean...Duh. Why haven't I ever done this? I just thought they'd figure it out? I assumed no one would ever go?

2) FUN! When things aren't going well - kids are tense with each other - whatever - perhaps it is a time to have more fun. These shared positive experiences relieve tension, build respect and I believe actually help you learn. I took a math seminar this spring that focused on laughter. The guy taught statistics in a community college. He firmly believe that if you could get them to laugh, you could get them to learn. Laughter releases anxiety and improves blood flow to the brain. (Ok, maybe that last bit isn't quite true, but oh well.)

I also spent time talking to my Brad, the love of my life, late at night. These discussions often involved wine, but some were quite insightful. He reminded me on a personal level that I need to let go of the things at school and on the district and national level that make me so upset. He suggested that my ego might be part of my problem. (ok, that made me mad at first.) But you know, I suffer from the need to be right or perhaps it's the need to have everyone else believe I'm right. He always makes me think.

We also had a good discussion about procedural knowledge and conceptual knowledge. Often times we consider conceptual knowledge to be more important - higher thinking. But procedural knowledge is what allows us to conduct our daily lives - how to write, drive, whatever. Math education is constantly about pitting the procedural (old school - "I learned my times facts in 3rd grade" - "kids need to know how to do long division without a calculator") with conceptual knowledge (new math - kids need to discover the Pythagoreum theorem and reinvent the math not just memorize a formula.) I expect this idea will percolate this year.

I'm also signed up to take the Courage to Teach seminar this year. I'm looking forward to it.

I teach middle school math and science at Cherokee Heights and am a firm believer in the power of public education.  I've been doing this for 20 years now.  I'm a bit disheartened as I look at my colleagues and see I'm the "old one" in the room.  I feel like I've got a lot to figure out yet.  I'm married to Brad who draws comics and we have 2 boys.  


  1. I'm enjoying these PD posts very much, Vera.

    1. I recently decided that a multi-authored blog is way more interesting than a single voice. I've always wondered what educators think and wonder about as they're doing work throughout the summer. And unless you are part of the class or the actual implementation, it's hard to share unless it's intentional. Thanks for following Sue, and if you have any ideas about future topics relative to education, let me know!