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The Learner and Learning

Teaching Philosophy

Summarized in a single concept, I believe mathematics education should be rooted in the real-world contexts to which each skill applies. My academic background is in corporate strategy and data analytics, which are subjects that are inherently interdisciplinary and rely heavily on a strong foundation in different branches of mathematics. This has shaped the way I teach my students because I know firsthand that math doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The future engineers in my class will never be asked to complete a worksheet as a requirement of their engineering job description, so why should that be the primary deliverable in my classroom?

 

Whenever I can, I aim to infuse my teaching with project-based learning to develop context and provide students a structure in which they can guide their own exploration of a topic. For example, in learning right-triangle trigonometry, my students designed wheelchair ramps for different locations on our campus according to the ADA legal regulations. Students studied the laws dictating wheelchair ramp requirements, modeled their designs using CAD software, and pitched their designs using public speaking best practices. When students learn in this way, I believe that even the students who have never felt confident or successful in previous math classes can find a touchpoint that engages their curiosity in the subject.

 

Because of my background in data analytics, I believe that measuring progress and results in the classroom is both a quantitative and qualitative process. My students’ and my success are not dictated by a single score or number. My biggest indicator that I have succeeded as an educator is my student’s academic efficacy self-assessment. Between four and five times per year, I ask my students to rate their confidence in their ability to learn new mathematical concepts on a scale of one to five, and I track their responses over the course of the year. Last year, my students’ rating moved from an average of 2.4 out of 5 to 4.1 out of 5 by the end of the semester, and I believe this finding says more about my students’ growth and my growth than any standardized benchmark ever could. This represents only one of many ways I track data and utilize it to inform my instruction.

 

For many of my students, some of my teaching practices are radically different from their previous math instructors’. So, it is important to create buy-in built on a foundation of trust. Relationship-building is at the heart of successful project-based learning, which is why it is also integral to my teaching philosophy. I strive to learn details about my students’ lives so I can get to know them more holistically, rather than base all of my knowledge solely on their performance in my class. I reinforce consistently that my classroom is a safe space and that I am always available to listen. My classroom environment reflects my emphasis on student well-being, too. In the back corner, I have a nook dedicated to student self-regulation, where students can pour a cup of tea and play with a Rubik’s cube until they are ready to rejoin the class. These strategies also help my students build a sense of academic autonomy and responsibility, which is critical to their success beyond high school.

 

My goal for all my students is for them to leave my math class feeling confident in themselves and prepared for their next stage in life, whether math is a part of that vision or not. Every decision I make is a means to this end, from how I structure my projects, to how I configure my classroom.

 

Classroom Community & Safety Plan

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The Learner & Learning Reflection

Both in teacher preparation programs and within schools, there is a consistent and steadfast push for educators to make data-informed instructional decisions. My personal belief is that this usage of the word, “data,” is vague and can mean various pieces of information from various sources. Nonetheless, I also believe that this phrase is reflective of the choices I’ve made teaching pre-calculus over the last year and a half.

Since I do not teach a course that culminates in a standardized exam, monitoring student progress depends on local definitions of success rather than global ones. Because of this, I, with the help of the leaders in my department as well as my students, developed our own benchmarks to reflect the unique learning needs of my individual students and the Frederick Douglass High School community. Out of these conversations, I developed a simple math efficacy survey, which I distribute to my students quarterly. This survey monitors students’ confidence in their ability to learn new things as well as their confidence to improve their math skills. Coupled with formative data collected during class and students’ grades on various assignments, the results of this survey helped me assess my own effectiveness as a teacher.

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Overwhelmingly, students’ confidence rose over the course of the academic year (Figure 1).  During this time, and into the subsequent school year, I employed strategies that intentionally lower students’ barriers to entry for challenging mathematical concepts. I scaffolded assignment and allowed students to self-diagnose their level of need for instructor guidance to give all students the opportunity to understand a concept more deeply. Teaching abstract concepts within trigonometry was conducted through tangible tasks and projects that connected the standard to student interests like architecture, computer science, and design. We explored the context of math using examples that are proximal to our class’s experiences, like partnering with local businesses and nonprofits and framing math on Frederick Douglass High School’s campus.

I know that adjusting my instructional practices will be an ongoing process throughout my teaching career. I see this process as adding tools to my teaching toolbox, and as new challenges or needs arise, I can draw the tool that fits best. Currently, I would assess that I need many more tools to help me differentiate. At the beginning of my teaching journey, integrating differentiation strategies feels less organic than other components of my planning. Over the next few years, this is an area of my arsenal I wish to bolster to better serve the different needs of my students in both pre-planned and spontaneous ways.