Name: Mrs. Heather James
Role: 6th Grade Math Teacher
School: Ellerbe Middle School
School District: Richmond County Schools
Subjects/Grades Taught: 6th Grade
Degree/Certificates: Middle Grades Math Education
Background: I have taught for five and a half years. I attended Wingate University. My student teaching was completed at East Union Middle School in Marshville, NC.
How did you find yourself in teaching?
In High School I shadowed a dentist and knew that was the career I wanted for my life. The expected salary was great. I spent two and a half years at Campbell University studying to be a dentist. During winter break my mom, who worked at the local high school, put me to work substituting for supplemental income. To my surprise, I absolutely fell in love with teaching. I even rearranged my class schedule the following semester so I could substitute and go to school during the week. During that same timeframe my brother walked into the bathroom one day as I was curling my hair and began brushing his teeth. The sound nauseated me, and that’s when it hit me, “Why was I trying to become a dentist?” I instantly made the decision to change my major and I have never looked back. I transferred to Wingate University and received the best education in my life because I had a passion for what was being taught.
What is your favorite thing about Math Techbook?
I have two favorite things.
The investigations are amazing. I love how all of my learners from different backgrounds and abilities can be successful. The discussions may vary, but the content and the concepts being discussed are still being taught. My students’ confidence grows each time they discover the math on their own, rather than me handing them the answer. They are always engaged in their learning when we use the Math Techbook.
My second favorite thing is the dashboard. I do not necessarily use this as a grading tool, but a data collection tool. I can quickly target my struggling students and make groups from the immediate feedback given through the dashboard. The dashboard provides more than just a view of if they answered the questions correctly or not. It is a one-stop shop that depicts students’ reasoning, and is an easy to access tool to help see from their perspective.
How has using Math Techbook changed your opinion of your role as the teacher?
My saying is, “I’m no longer the sage on the stage, but the guide on the side.” I see myself as a facilitator in my classroom. Before using the Math Techbook it was hard for me to say that about myself. Now I can truly say at the end of the day my students are the ones talking about the math and making the mathematical connections.
Watch Mrs. James introduce her sixth grade students to a unit on Coordinate Plane (Math Techbook, Unit 6.1).
What tips do you have for beginning users?
Do not be afraid to try something new. Let the students help you, because they have figured out things I never knew existed. It is ok to be vulnerable and unsure in front of your students. In my experience, they will actually have more respect and better connection with you.
Do not feel like you have to use every single piece of every single unit in chronological order. Tailor it to the needs of your students and what your goals are for that day.
Find one piece at the Techbook you are confident in using and begin there. If it is the “Coach and Play” portion then try and become the most effective “Coach and Play” teacher out there, then branch out and try something new.
Set goals and ask questions.
What other tools, resources, strategies, etc. do you incorporate with Math Techbook?
I never have the students stare at their laptops all class period and work in the Discovery Education Math Techbook independently. If the topic for the day is measuring or conversion factors, the students are going to physically touch a ruler, meter stick, yard stick, or large paper clip to represent the unit being referenced. I use the Math Techbook as the big idea and take it even further by using hands-on materials.
We use the Math Techbook in small group instruction or whole group instruction depending on the topic or the goal for that day.
My students have even taken the apply problems at the end of the units and created projects where they presented their information in Microsoft PowerPoint.
How do you organize your classroom and planning to maximize your students’ learning experiences?
Finding real-world engaging scenarios to present is not always easy. For me, it is a matter of opening up the Math Techbook, saying, “Oh, I like that!”, clicking the “add to” button, and then assigning the content. The lesson plans are all there with distributed summarization assessment prompts, guiding questions, and so on. Sometimes building my lessons is as simple as copying and pasting into the lesson plan template so that I can spend more time taking the lesson further. As a bonus, I can give my boss what he wants to see at the same time I’m building my lessons.
The Math Techbook can help formulate the ideas and then even take the learning further. It covers the “leg work”, so you can take the topic and put your own style with it to create an all around meaningful experience.
Knowing when to use the Math Techbook in stations, as a unit opener, whole group discussion, independent practice, or with partners is something that has revealed itself over time. When wanting to cover new material, but not feeling quite ready to move on from the current standard, I use the Math Techbook in stations. One of our four stations involves continuing to practice the content of the current standard or taking it to a higher level. One of the other stations begins teaching the new content all in the same day as the practice, also using the Math Techbook.
See how Mrs. James organizes her classroom with this Learning in 360 degrees blog post.
How do your students respond to the use of Math Techbook? What do they like about it?
My students find the Math Techbook fun, which leads to a high level of engagement. The students all learn that I expect even more from them. They are excited to be in my classroom on days that they know that the Math Techbook is on the agenda. Many of my students have expressed that their level of understanding is much deeper because of the investigations and “coach and play” sections. My students are living in a world of technology, which further utilizes their use of the 21st century skills. Many have expressed the love of using the laptops rather than old fashioned pencil and paper.
Want to see how other educators are using Discovery Education Math Techbook? Check out other featured educators in our Discovery Education in Action series.