As October settles over Etowah High School in shades of orange and black, math teacher Teri Owens is busy exorcising demons. Not the tissue papered kind that can be found hanging from the ceiling, either. Teri Owens is embroiled in the real-life ghost-busting the way only a truly forward-thinking math teacher can.
She’s slaying the ghost of traditional math curriculum. And not only is she using an innovative math program as her weapon of choice, she’s using social media to build her army and to tell the tale.
Leaving Skeleton Curricula In the Closet
For Owens, and thousands of other educators, October is Connected Educators Month (#CE14 @edconnectr). Each day, teachers of all disciplines organize and engage in activities that will allow students to connect their learning to technology. It gives each participant a chance to learn concepts in brand new ways, and often with peers from around the world.
Through online seminars, tweetchats, webinars and personal learning networks (PLNs), teachers like Teri Owens are learning new ways to engage students with interactive curriculum. For Teri Owens, this type of connected learning and engaging curriculum is a welcomed change from the skeleton systems of the past.
Owens has recently taken the idea of being a connected educator to the next level by heading the adoption of Interactive Mathematics Program® (IMP) by IT’S ABOUT TIME® (IAT) at Etowah High School. The curriculum (or, as Teri calls it, “the new approach”), focuses on engaging students through incorporating interactive, real-world problems into the math classroom. No more rote memorization – this program is engaging and developing 21st century problem-solvers!
She Ain’t Afraid of No Tweets
But, Owens is doing more than just implementing new innovative curriculum. She is live-tweeting, blogging and sharing her IMP-implementation experience with other teachers online every step of the way — in the true spirit of Connected Educators Month. Her enthusiasm is infectious.
This is the kind of connected engagement that informs and inspires us all. Owens and her students are building quite the fan club – count Math Professor and Change Agent, Brian R. Lawler, among them:
Confessions of a Traditional Math Ghostbuster
Tweeting in 140-characters is one thing, blogging detailed and thoughtful analysis of your classroom progression through new curriculum is a horse of different color — think purple.
Not only is Teri Owens connecting to other educators through fun tweets, she is writing blog posts (nearly daily) analyzing and recapping her students’ journey from traditional math to interactive, thought-provoking math. On her personal blog, The Sky Is Purple, you’ll find posts offering insights into new curriculum implementation at Etowah High School and honest self-assessment, mixed with useful tips and words of encouragement:
“Well…the 3 algebra teachers at our school are starting a new teaching adventure this coming Monday. We are going to start piloting the traditional algebra IMP (Interactive Math Program) from It’s About Time… One of my teaching buddies (Sonya New) and I have been “transforming our teaching” over the last few years. Our students seemed to be less and less successful in our algebra classes and we started seeking new ways to present our material. She is actually the one who started making major changes first. She changed her desks around where they sat in groups every day. She was also working hard to find activities to help teach or reinforce concepts. I am nervous and excited about starting the new curriculum. We have had issues with student apathy and a lack of retention. I am hoping that this change in our approach to teaching algebra will improve both. We are extremely excited that we will no longer have to spend hours searching for good activities to use to teach the algebra. We are going to just trust this curriculum which is time-tested and successful. I also intend to use this blog as a tool for reflection and recording our progress. Disclaimer: Trying to type a blog post while “bopping” a balloon with a 3-year-old may cause some crazy writing.
Thursday I had a student in my 5th period class tell me that he had come up with a way to find an endless number of solutions to The Broken Eggs [IMP activity]. He told me verbally but he lost me! I told him to write it down and put it on my desk (the bell was about to ring). He had written down to take the previous answer, multiply it by 2, and then add 119. I used 301 as the “previous answer” and used his method and it worked. I went and showed Sonya New [fellow math teacher] to see if she could help me figure out how he came up with it. We were stumped! When he came to class on Friday I asked him to explain. He said that he found 301 by adding 7 over and over again. The class had already discussed that the answer had to be an odd multiple of 7. This young man had also decided that the number had to end with a 1 because to have 1 left over when putting the eggs in packages of 5 the number had to end in a 6 or a 1 and since the number had to be odd it had to end with a 1. So…he kept adding 7 until he came to the next multiple of 7 that ended in a 1 and it was 721. Then he said he was just playing with the numbers and decided to multiply 301 by 2 to see how close it was and it was 119 away. Then he decided to try to double 721 and add 119 to see if it worked to generate another solution and it did. WOW! That seems so random to me. I am still amazed.“
3 Ways You Can Embrace Change and Become a Connected Educator
Often, new teachers treat the words “technology” and “engagement” like specters trained to steal their teaching time. Teri Owens is a great example of a teacher willing to bust the ghosts of traditional curriculum by taking small steps, building a strong support network with fellow teachers and including students in the process. In fact, her story highlights several easy ways to make adopting new curriculum fun and to make a classroom more connected and engaging.
1. Open a dialogue with curriculum and app providers. Teri Owens reached out to IAT via Twitter, wanting to get the best support in researching and implementing an alternative curriculum. IAT support-staff was thrilled to see pictures of smiling students working through interactive math problems in Teri Owens’ classroom. They responded by amplifying the work and innovation of the class through retweets – offering support and encouraging tweets. It only takes a few moments to reach out to your own curriculum providers and talk to them about ways to make your current system more engaging and powerful for students. Is your curriculum provider a Connected Educator?
2. Encourage student connection. A major part of Owens’ social outreach program was using Twitter to cheer the success of her students. By highlighting your students’ progress on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, you can make students even more proud of the work they are doing in class. This keeps them motivated to learn and helps them have a more positive math education experience. Today’s high school students respond to connected technology. What better way to do this than to create an experience between the online world and their real world learning experience? Photos of classrooms with students working, learning, and doing shared in social media is a great and easy start to being a Connected Educator.
3. Use technology to seek out supportive teaching mentors. Not only did Owens use Twitter to connect with her curriculum provider, she also used it as a way to connect with other teachers using IMP and to amplify the experience of her fellow Etowah math teachers who are also implementing IMP. Her tweets drew the attention of educators like Brian Lawler and Michael Reitemeyer and has sparked numerous discussions and debates. As she continues to share her experience teaching Meaningful Math to her students, Owens’ online support network will continue to grow. By using social media to connect with other educators, you can get valuable support, ideas, and research that has often already been classroom-tested and student-approved.
Etowah High School Math Teachers in Action!
Are you a Connected Educator? If not, start by following Teri Owens’ Twitter updates at @OwensTeri (and her blog HERE) and watch how her rock star students ghost-bust through traditional math with IMP. A few other great teachers to follow on Twitter: @jeffcolegrove, @mreitemeyer, @blaw0013, @ehssonyanew, @caitlin_m_whitt and @DrSMontgomery. Tap into the community by following and using these hashtags: #MathChat, #WeAreEtowah, #IMPmath and #CE14. Learn more about Connected Educator Month HERE.
Thank You Teri Owens and Etowah High School!
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