Monday, April 14, 2014

Guest Post: The Value of Social Media for Teachers

The following is a reflection written by one of my preservice elementary mathematics teachers (@hollikathryn14) in W14, wherein she summarizes what she learned from an hour of professional development time spent with #MSMathChat on Twitter.

For some background on the assignment, see my post: Professional Growth for (New) (Math) Teachers.

When I read her reflection, I was inspired. I thought she nicely captured the power of looking to social media for professional development, and I hoped that her experience and perspective (pre-service teacher, and Twitter newbie), might inspire others to give it a try.

She graciously granted her permission for me to share this with you. And so, here's Holli's reflection on her first #MSMathChat experience:

I participated in #MSMathChat on Twitter for an hour on March 31. During this time the moderator asked a question that everyone conversed about. The topic of the night was classroom management techniques. There were several responses, however the responses all seemed to have one underlying theme - downtime leads to behavioral issues.

During the hour, the participants tweeted responses to one another about the topics of classroom management. About halfway through the conversation got redirected to how to get students to focus on fluency rather than speed in their attempts to be "good" at math. Throughout this experience I learned that the majority of teachers who participated in the chat had the experience that downtime lead to disruptions in the class caused by misbehaving. However, as the moderator said, too much structure in a class can be very boring for the teacher. Therefore, I learned it is important to have a nice balance of classroom freedom and structure.

I also had the opportunity to think about some aspects of fluency I had not thought of before. It seems many schools stress the idea of speed when it comes to practicing math. However, I do not think that speed leads to fluency; in fact, I believe it is the other way around. I feel that practice and fluency can help one become faster, but no amount of speed is going to help a student become fluent. Others seemed to agree with this statement. The moderator also brought up a valid point that we tend to see fast math as "good" math instead of the understanding of the mathematics behind the problem. Other participants then had some neat ideas on how to help students become more fluent. One suggestion was counting circles. We also had a discussion about "finger-counters." There seemed to be a consensus that teachers would rather work with finger-counters who can use their strategies for problem solving than students who rely on calculators to find the answer. I tend to agree with the majority on that issue as well.

The information I learned by participating in #MSMathChat was significant because it will help me design a better classroom when I obtain a teaching position. I now know that structure helps cut downtime, but too much structure can also be detrimental. I am also now aware that, while speed is a focus in math classrooms, it is not the most important. I would rather have students that can accurately solve a problem using strategies they have on their own than having a student who can solve the problem very rapidly with no understanding of the underlying mathematics. I intend to do a little more research on the "counting circles" strategy to see if it is something I would like to implement in my classroom in the future. I am also aware now that even though these students are moving into more complicated material (like algebra) they may still need to use some rudimentary techniques to solve a problem (like finger-counting). I also can now think of this technique as a valid problem solving strategy for simple math problems; however I know that this strategy is not enough to get them through the more difficult math they will encounter in the future. I will prepare myself to help them with some fluency building strategies (like counting circles) in order to combat the troubles that the students are encountering.

In order to continue learning, I plan to continue to view the #MSMathChat thread on Twitter to see what other useful information I can find to arm myself with for my rapidly approaching teaching career. I will also check out other Twitter threads relating to the subject of teaching to see what other pointers I can gather from current teachers in the field.
This professional development helped me understand the value of using social media to communicate with other professionals in a meaningful way. I will start to use social media websites, like Twitter, more often to develop myself professionally as a result of this workshop.

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