As part of student teaching for my dual certification for Literacy and General Education, my supervised field work includes a 2nd grade classroom at a Magnet School in Brooklyn. I am there 4 days a week, and I very much feel less like an observer and more like a teacher there. I help with lesson planning, organize activities for reading groups, assess with running records, and my input is valued by the head teacher, especially when it pertains to good literacy strategies. Since this is a general education classroom, I still have to tackle an occasional math lesson.
Math has always been challenging for me personally, and many of my colleagues and friends here at Bank Street have expressed the same sentiment. I know this because of a wonderful class I took here with Linda Metnetsky, called Mathematics for Teachers. In Linda’s class, we learned about Piaget, an educational theorist who encouraged students to make mistakes in order to learn. By experiencing “disequilibrium” (which became my favorite new word at the time), learners must explore and struggle to make sense of new problems. The course trained us in the use of many hands-on and experiential based activities like 10-frames, computer games, geoboards with rubber bands for geometry, and the like. These materials are both visual and sensory in nature. The 10 frames help students subitize, which is to just see, for example, “7 dots”, without counting each dot. The computer games helped students make 10 in various ways, all with colorful and fun animations. The geoboards allowed us to explore area and perimeter with strings and rubber bands. When I was growing up, math was very worksheet and memory oriented.
Flash-forward to just yesterday, when the students began a unit on measurement that needed a big, juicy, and engaging opener lesson. My cooperating teacher and I had the students using centimeter cubes to measure lengths of objects at their tables, but still many struggled to grasp the concept. It occurred to me suddenly to use the Smart Board in the room. I opened a new ‘notebook’, sketched a crayon (one of their objects), and then drew squares underneath, to model how to line up the centimeter cubes. By selecting a square with the cursor icon, I quickly went to edit-copy, then again to edit-paste, and was able to place the pasted square next to the first. I repeated the process until I showed that the crayon was 7 centimeter cubes in length. A lot of noisy little light-bulbs went off behind me. I could hear them go “ooh” and “aah”. That visual really helped. I think another great aspect of the Smart Board was the spontaneity of it as a resource. The kids saw us trying something new when the first thing wasn’t working.
What I saw was that having that visual representation and modeling the open-minded trial and error process of learning math is so vital to help young learners succeed with math concepts.
The Smart Board, while scary to some, can take a bit of fiddling with to master. But I try to think of it as no different than a computer. The notebook program is remarkably similar to basic PC programs like MS Paint that have been around for nearly two decades. Of course, there is so much more to do with a Smart Board, particularly with math, than what I did. If your classroom is equipped with a Smart Board, make an effort to get to know it. Great technology will never replace a great teacher, but if you’ve got the tools at the ready, don’t waste them! Here is just one of many videos available that teachers might want to check out if they are looking for Smart Board inspiration.