Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Best of 2008

In previous "best of" articles, I've listed posts which were the most popular--that is, the ones that received the most visitors--but of course what's popular is not always the best. I also notice that most vistors focus on the lesson plans and activities that I share, and not the big ideas that really get me excited.

So here are my 8 best big ideas of 2008!

8. Math & Website Design summer course [series] - This summer I had the unique opportunity to design a course from scratch. I decided to have students create a website that would teach some kind of math skill. It was a lot of learning on the fly for me and for them, but I was so blown away by what they produced, and I think you will be to.

7. A Decent into Madness: Teaching Only to the Test - I've been reading on various teacher blogs about how this very phenomenon is already rearing its ugly head--it seems no classroom is immune. It's only going to get worse as the spring semester wears on. We can only speculate on what President-Elect Obama plans to do about President Bush's legacy of testing, so for now all we can do is balance test prep with what they need to know to graduate and succeed in college.

6. Teacher Stress Relief: Spring Break Edition - Stress relief was a topics I revisited throughout the year, and this is good advice whenever you have a break from school (including right now if school hasn't yet restarted). I neglected to follow my own advice as the year went on, so I will try to rededicated myself to the cause this year (as we all should). Look for more stress relief articles in the near future.

5. Tie! Why We Need To Change the Way We Teach Math and Why California's plan for Algebra for every 8th grader won't solve anything - I paired these two essays because they speak to the same issues. When I wrote about changing the way we teach math, I meant we needed to start with our most fundamental ideas and systems. Then California came along with a typical "solution" that bypasses the real problems. I think now I would even take things a step further and say that we need to follow the UK model discuss in this Telegraph article. In short, we would move away from advanced algebra as a goal for all students and towards basic numeracy, statistics and data analysis in order to prepare students for the real world.

4. 5 Tips for Building a Quality (non-ELA) Classroom Library - Since people in our profession take a vow of poverty whether we want to or not, furnishing our classrooms with the materials our students need seems quite daunting. I've found that there are plenty of low cost/no cost ways to get more books, magazines and newspapers than you'll know what to do with. As the title says, it's about quality over quantity, so there's a lot of guidance on picking out engaging, high-interest materials.

3. A Motivational Experiment [series] - In April, with the dreaded TAKS test looming, I cut my hair into a Chuck Liddell-style mohawk, promising to grow it to heights unimaginable if only they would buckle down. At first I was reluctant to call the experiment a success, as I did end up cutting it off just before the big test, but after reading the reflections of my students I concluded it clearly was. I don't know if it will become an annual tradition, or the harbinger of more hair-raising (sorry, couldn't resist) experiments to come, but I can tell you I'm already growing my hair out a little!

2. 50 Cheap Mini-Lessons [series] - Heading into the school year, I wrote a week-long series that shared the most important lessons I've learned over the years about our noble profession. I focused on the things that were obvious to me, but probably wouldn't be to someone just starting out. The list covers a little bit of everything--from the practical (#30, #38) to the big issues that face us (#44, #47). This series gave me the idea for an ambitious project I'm going to announce on Monday. Come back tomorrow to see how you can get involved!

1. Ten Cheap Lessons: Easy, Engaging Ideas for Every Secondary Classroom - By far, this is what I'm most proud of this year. Publishing a book, albeit not through traditional channels, was something I had thought about for a long time. What's amazing is that I've received nothing but positive feedback. I am also happy to say I have a lot of ideas in the pipeline, and it looks like I'll start 2009 the same way I started 2008: writing!