Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Letter to Parents

Last year, a colleague and I taught our Geometry Honors course as a fully Problem-Based Course (check out the materials we used on Carmel Schettino's blog here).

This year, as a way of getting information to families, we wanted to send a parent letter. We're currently on our second draft and will probably send it out via email next week! Thought I would share, just in case this (or something similar) would be at all helpful to others! (We'll make final edits it's not perfect yet)

Dear Geometry Honors Parents,

Greetings! I’m Danielle Reycer, your student’s Geometry teacher.  (Other teacher name here) and I comprise the Geometry Honors teaching team at Kent.  We wanted to reach out to you early, so you can have an idea of what your student will experience this year.  This course is likely to be different from many of the math courses your student has had in the past, as we will be using a problem-based approach.

Problem-based learning (PBL) is an approach to curriculum and pedagogy.  There is no “chapter 5,” nor is there a distinct section on right triangles. The curriculum is problem-based, rather than chapter-oriented.  Students take what they know and tackle each new problem like an exploration.  Discussion and development of ideas and concepts is an integral part of the learning process as is the student’s experience in grappling with problems on a regular basis. As teachers in a PBL classroom, we empower students to become more effective and active problem solvers in the process of covering the essential Geometry Honors curriculum.
In recent years there has been a lot of research done in the field of neuroscience and learning.  Many of the conclusions of this research go against what many took to be obvious when it comes to learning.  Specifically, neuroscience research shows

  • Learning is deeper and more durable when it is active.
  • We are poor judges of when we are learning well and when we are not.
  • Simply rereading a textbook and excessive practice problems (i.e. do #1-91 odd) are the least productive for long-term learning.  Instead, retrieval practice (constantly revisiting ideas) throughout the year is a more effective learning strategy.
  • When you space out practice of a task or alternate practice of two or more topics, it is harder and feels less productive, but the effort produces longer-lasting learning and enables more versatile application of it in later settings.
For instance, we might ask students in a single homework assignment to solve a linear equation, find the distance between two points, and then find the area of a polygon. This might be challenging at first. However, when we ask similar questions a few weeks later (after asking other types of questions in between), they are more quick to recall those previous techniques.
  • Trying to work through a problem before knowing the steps to solving it leads to better learning, even when errors are made in the attempt.

We understand that this approach to learning maths* may be initially more frustrating. Sometimes it may seem like students are not making the kind of progress they want; however, it is actually better in the long run.  Problem-based learning synthesizes all of this into a compelling mathematics education.

We have developed a single-question survey in hopes of gauging parental/guardian attitudes towards mathematics.  Responses will remain anonymous. At back to school night on Tuesday, August 30th, we will discuss some of the responses and how they can impact your child’s experience in mathematics and this class. At that time, we will also make available additional resources should you be interested. We ask that you complete this survey at your convenience by Friday, August 26th.

Additionally, you can elect to provide information (optional) about your student that might help us better teach them.

Thank you for your time and for allowing us the opportunity to learn with your child. We look forward to meeting you at back to school night.  Please feel free to reach out with any questions.


*  Dr. Jo Boaler, professor of mathematics education at Stanford University said, “maths is the shortened form of mathematics, which is a plural noun. Mathematics was chosen to be plural to reflect all the many parts of mathematics-- drawing, modeling, asking questions, communicating. Math sounds more singular and narrower” (2016).

Portions of this letter adapted from Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown and Henry L. Roediger III, and letters by Johnothon Sauer, Patrick Frasier, and Carmel Schettino.

1 comment:

  1. I love your letter! I have never tried PBL, but I can definitely see the tie-in to Make It Stick. I would love to hear more about how you started PBL.. it seems so overwhelming to me!