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Thursday, June 28, 2018

A 2018 #PBL reflection

I’ve just wrapped up my first year as a PBL teacher; thirteenth year in total. When I embarked on my journey to be an educator 14 years ago, I never could have imagined the twists and turns my life
would take. So, as I try to do every year, I’m reflecting on what this
most recent teaching experience means for me as I move forward. What just happened? What did I learn? What did my students learn? What do I need to do for next year? I wanted to share my top 5 reflections with you below:
  1. I over did it. I was warned to not bite off my than I could chew, but ambition took over and I swamped myself in trying to teach in a way that I wasn’t ready... and neither were my students. I appreciate individualized learning for what it is, but I didn’t set it up the way I needed to. I have to incorporate more of my natural teaching style, and integrate individualized learning in a more organized way.... deadlines...! 
  2. Co-teaching is amazing. I was fortunate to work with a set of co-teachers that were remarkable, passionate and creative. Being part of a team that adjusts easily, sets high standards for each other, and works together to meet those standards is an experience all educators should have. It is with their help that this year was the success we needed it to be for our students. 
  3. Standards based grading is what students need. I grew up in the points system. Do this... get points. Do that.. get points. Points! Points! Points! When you remove the points and let students show you what they know, they realize that the learning is central to the experience. There is never an empty feeling of failure when a student has all year to demonstrate understanding within a standard. When you add to it the theory of decayed averages that allow for the most recent completed work to have a stronger influence on a student’s overall grade, then it shows we are working for our kids, and not against them. There is always opportunity for showing learning/growth. 
  4. Math portfolios! I’ve been wanting to create an opportunity for my students to build math portfolios to show what they have learned through out the school year. I took the chance this year to make it happen and the feedback that I received from my students was very positive. Naturally, I wanted the portfolios to be challenging, so that I could fully see the depth of each student’s understanding. What I was most proud of was the perseverance they showed in completing them. They knew the value the portfolio held towards their grade being that is was the very last picture they could paint for me regarding their growth in learning. More than 90% of all my students completed the portfolio. Almost all of my Algebra students used it to bump their final scores, some from C’s to A’s. I loved seeing the pride they had in themselves when they turned it in. For next year, I’m going to expand the portfolios. Make them longer and more in-depth, but also give the students the majority of the year to complete. Collecting them at the end of each trimester to provide feedback and scores. 
  5. Relationships over content. This one is central to my philosophy of education, but held true this year. I feel like this was my worst year ever as a teacher of content. I know that my students learned, but I also know that I didn’t help them all reach their potential. I left a lot on the playing field... some of it never even got in the game. But, you wouldn’t know it if you asked my students. The feedback I received from their portfolios was incredibly supportive and caring. They thanked me for a great year, and wanted me to know how much they appreciated me and my ability to connect with them. I read all of these messages and it hit me that for the majority of my students, the take away for this year in working with me is that I cared, and I made it enjoyable to be around math. Sure lessons matter, but it’s in how the kiddos are treated that memories are created. 
If you’re a parent to a school aged kiddo, take the time to reflect on your own kiddo’s experience. Maybe journal it somewhere for memory sake. I know that I asked all of my students to have someone (parent/guardian) write a message in their portfolios for future reference. It’s an amazing future moment to create.

If you’re a teacher, share some of your reflections from this year on my Facebook page or in the comments below. You can also connect with me on Twitter. It’s all about community, so feel free to connect, so we can learn from each other.