Aug 20, 2014

Teenagers Connect to their City's History

Students ask questions about DC History
Students ask questions about DC History

In spring 2014, Inspired Teaching helped local history come alive for hundreds of teenagers in the Washington, DC public and public charter schools.

Inspired Teaching staff with expertise in the local history of Washington, DC wrote a teaching unit, called "Dream City Revisited" centered around the effort in the 1960s, 70s and 80s by local Washingtonians to claim key democratic freedoms and responsibilities including the right to vote for mayor and school board officials. Washington, DC residents enjoy fewer democratic rights than citizens from all other states within the U.S. The movement by local Washingtonians for greater democratic expression within the District of Columbia is called the Home Rule movement.

Inspired Teaching staff then recruited teachers at six schools within DCPS or the public charter school system to teach the “Dream City Revisited unit” in their classrooms. As a result, several hundred young Washingtonians explored, in classroom discussions and position paper essays, big and critical questions related to the recent civic history of their home city-- questions such as: What does it mean for young Washingtonians to “inherit” the history and legacy of the Home Rule movement in DC?; What role did former Mayor Marion Barry play in the DC Home Rule movement?; In what ways does the Home Rule movement continue today?; and What are the unique rights and responsibilities of young Washingtonians with regards to the Home Rule movement?

At Inspired Teaching’s culminating event for this project, “Dream City Revisited”, we held a Town Hall at DC’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, which was attended by over 100 people, including dozens of students from DC public and public charter schools. We created an opportunity for these young Washingtonians to talk directly to the authors of the book Dream City (Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood). Additionally, the event attracted coverage in The Washington Post:

Let's talk Washington, DC History
Let's talk Washington, DC History
May 22, 2014

Elephants & Math: We know how to engage kids

Paper Mache Elephant in 2nd grade class (2)
Paper Mache Elephant in 2nd grade class (2)

The Inspired Teacher Certification Program in Washington, DC selects and trains teachers who are prepared to make a profound difference in the lives of kids in the DC public and public charter schools.

One of the teachers who is about to graduate from our certification program is Iris Martinez, and Ms. Martinez exemplifies what our Inspired Teachers bring into classrooms throughout the District of Columbia.

"I believe, as teachers, we have an obligation to make learning relevant to children," says Martinez. "We have one precious year with our students and we need to do everything we can to make it count."

How does Ms. Martinez do this?

Well, for instance, as part of her teaching unit on measurements and metrics, Ms. Martinez has engaged her entire class, and some parents, in the building of a near life-size, paper mache adolescent elephant. 

"Math is a huge part of this project," says Martinez. "First, our class created a small model of an elephant and we measured the elephant's ears, legs, torso and trunk. Then we use math to scale up the proportions to match a life size adolescent elephant. Parents were so excited about the project that they volunteered to call an elephant expert to make sure that our metrics correctly matched the true size of a life-size adolescent elephant. We are also going to measure the time it has taken our class to finish this project, through its various phases."

How was Ms. Martinez inspired to come up with such an exciting way to make math real for her class?

"You have to know your kids," she says. "My kids love animals. For example, we are just wrapping up another unit about life cycles, and we have several caterpillars in the back of the class that are in their chrysalises-- we are waiting for them to transform into butterflies. I just knew that the best way I can hook my kids into learning is through the study of animals."

Ms. Martinez shares that she is thankful to be a part of the Inspired Teacher Certification Program. "The program has given me the training and support to be the best teacher I can be," she says. "I have so many tools in my teaching toolbox because of the program, and that allows me to be bold in the classroom and to engage my students in exciting ways."

The Inspired Teacher Certification Program is also thankful for its teachers-- teachers who, every day, make a difference in the lives of DC's kids. By supporting the Inspired Teacher Certification Program, you help ensure that more students are taught by teachers like Ms. Martinez. 

Paper Mache Elephant in 2nd grade class (2)
Paper Mache Elephant in 2nd grade class (2)
Mar 6, 2014

What Inquiry-Based Teaching Looks Like in Action

Ms. Coleman engages students through inquiry
Ms. Coleman engages students through inquiry

One of Inspired Teaching's greatest strengths is training educators how to bring to life in their classroom inquiry-based instruction. In an inquiry-based classroom, teachers provide opportunities for students to solve or reason through novel tasks, by employing and applying prior knowledge, skills and understanding of content.

What does this look like in action?

To find out, one simply needs to visit the fifth grade classroom of Inspired Teacher Latisha Coleman at our demonstration school in Washington, DC. Coleman is a graduate of the Inspired Teacher Certification Program, and she brings to life inquiry-based instruction every week in her math classes.

On a recent afternoon, we dropped by Coleman’s math class. The class has been studying rounding and estimating for the past few weeks. Her students are sitting on a circular rug on the floor, shoulder to shoulder, with their math journals carefully balanced on their knees, and with their faces scrunched up in intense concentration. They are trying to make sense of the math equation that Coleman had just written on the board.

0.904 times 75 = 75

What do you think of this equation? Coleman asks her students.

It’s funny, says one. Something isn’t right about it, says another student.

What’s not right? prods Coleman.

If you carry the equation all the way through it’s wrong.

Well, how can me make this equation right? Coleman prods again.

The students squirm in silence for a minute or two but Coleman doesn’t give away an answer. She tells the students that they can figure this out if they apply the math concepts the class has been studying for the past few weeks.

A girls voice chirps up: “Well, if we round 0.904 to one, then the equation is right.”

If we round up or if we round down? Coleman asks the girl to clarify.

“If we round 0.904 up to 1, then we see that 1 times 75 = 75” the girl answers, beaming at the fact she’s figured it out.

After the class “cracks” this math riddle, Coleman then runs students through a number of other math challenges, all of which can only be solved when students apply the rounding principle. At every turn in the conversation, Coleman finds opportunities to increase her students’ math vocabulary and math fluency. Each problem is an opportunity to clarify and re-clarify the idea of decimal number, a whole number, the tenths place, the hundredths place. Coleman teaches math the way a foreign language instructor teaches language.. by using students’ current fluency with some math terms and concepts as stepping stone/bridges to understanding more advanced math concepts.

Later, when Coleman has a break from her teaching duties, she shares her thoughts about why teaching math through inquiry-based instruction helps develop her students’ critical thinking and problem solving skills. She reflects:

Inquiry-based teaching encourages students to do more than just find the right answer. In my lessons, I encourage students to apply the concepts and rules that we’ve learned to new situations. This helps them see patterns and trends… not just arrive at ‘the right answer.’ It’s about seeing the bigger picture.

By shifting the focus away from finding ‘the right answer’ to applying what they know to problems, and then inviting them to explain their problem-solving methods out loud, I help create an opening for students to take risks. Yes, there is an answer we need to arrive at, but the process of getting there, and explaining your problem-solving to others, is the reward. If a student’s problem solving doesn’t get them to the right answer, then we think through their process for getting there. Where do we need to back-track? Where along the way did we go wrong? Let’s go back and pinpoint, and find that wrong turn.

This way of teaching math, encourages students to take risks and to not be afraid to problem solve their way through things. It’s more demanding than traditional math teaching… more demanding on teachers and students alike. But it helps build students’ confidence in their ability to problem solve.

Because of your support, Inspired Teaching is able to ensure that students in Coleman’s classroom and in hundreds of classrooms throughout public and public charter schools in the District are places where students experience rigorous, rewarding, and relevant learning. By helping strengthen the teaching practice of teachers like Coleman, Inspired Teaching works to ensure that high-quality, engaging teaching becomes the norm, not the exception, for students in Washington, DC.

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