For the past two weeks, I have blogged about my experiences figuring out some problems in Eureka math for the ASSISTments program at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Those blogs were more about “taking off the top of my head,” the math equivalent of a strategy called “Think Aloud” that an ELL colleague has been teaching me about lately, where the teacher stops and models his or her thought process while reading. My goal in the last two blogs was to model the evolution of my thinking, using a “Think Aloud”-like strategy, as I finally wrapped my head around the way Eureka was teaching factoring.
This week, I’m stepping back to look at the bigger picture. Specifically, I’m thinking about the lessons around professional development that I had this summer and about how to replicate those experiences.
First, as I wrote before, doing the work this summer for ASSISTments (1) gave me a clearer sense of the scope of the Eureka Math program and (2) forced me to slow down and put words to the why of what I was doing, so that I could teach it to my students. Of course, part of what made this professional development so valuable is that it’s 100% relevant–I had a contract to create this content. If you left me on my own or let me do whatever work in Engage/Eureka, I would NOT have chosen these problems from Grade 7, Module 3, Lesson 4–we use other resources to teach these standards, ones that we think better address the standard(s). The question it raises for me is how can we bring that relevance and drive into professional development on a regular basis? Yes, being paid helps (a lot!), but it’s more than that. I was also drawn into the work because there was a reason for me to do the work to completion, even when I was initially stumped or displeased by the approach. I had to push through, because I had to complete hints and exemplars for every problem, without exception.
Another part of what made working for ASSISTments a powerful experience was the sheer immersion in the work…and that requires time. Heather, my partner-in-crime who also spent the summer creating online content for ASSISTments (for the Illustrative Math curriculum), has said the same thing about her experience. As she said, there is just no way she would have been able to put in this many hours of work if she hadn’t been doing the work for ASSISTments. Because ASSISTments has aggressively put in for grants and grown their non-profit status (thank you, Cristina and Neil!), the ASSISTments program has the money to be able to fund 300 or 400 hours of online content creation, plus fund student work for a summer. This kind of funding isn’t available full-time during the year, nor can I, as a full-time teacher, put in 40 hours a week during the school year, but being able to sleep and breathe Eureka for the summer really made me see the connections and the structure.
So, I’m left with lots of questions. How can we recreate these deep professional development experiences during the school year? How can they be created within the financial constraints and time constraints of a school year and budget?
I think one answer I have experienced first-hand is that professional development that is product-based for teachers goes a long way. For example, when Julie Spang and I co-taught a Universal Design for Learning course on Enhancing your UDL Practice with Technology, teachers left with student-ready materials and practices. Yes, I happen to know that at least one teacher revised once she tried the materials out with students the following school year, but she wouldn’t have created them at all without the professional development opportunity.
And this summer, when Danielle Patenaude and I were planning a course on Universally Designed Project-Based Learning, the driving goal of the course was to create a student-ready Project-Based Learning unit, soup to nuts. It’s one thing to read about Project-Based Learning and Universal Design for Learning….it’s another thing to actually work to put it into practice, get feedback, revise, etc. This kind of professional development is challenging, but engaging–there is a real reason to finish and, ultimately, the participants get more out of it than just a certificate or even a pay raise (in theory, anyway).
What would it look like for districts to create these sorts of authentic learning professional development experiences for all teachers within the parameters of the school year and the school budget? What would it take?
Thanks to Sarah Jordan, Ph. D., for the “Think Aloud” explanation.