How much time do students spend each day in their mathematics class? Is it the same across each school, state, or even country. Do students have the same amount of time in English class (or Language Arts, Reading, or whatever you school calls it)? If we want to get better at something at life, don’t we usually spend more time working on it?
These questions should lead us down the road to understanding why students need to be spending more time each day in their mathematics class in school. A couple of years ago my school change from 42 minutes of class each day to now 80+ minutes each day, and I feel like my students have greatly benefited from it. We hear stats about how the US if falling further and further behind in topics like math and science, but how are we changing instruction. It seems like we keep pushing higher level material into lower and lower grades, but when are students given time to grasp and understand the key concepts so they can apply them to higher level concepts. If we want student to understand math better so they can become better problems solvers we need to give them MORE TIME!!
When my school made the change several years ago to 80 minute class periods, it was a very difficult transition for me. For years I had a routine I used in my class every day, that I rarely veered away from, because I wanted to optimize every second of class. I did a warm-up, went over the previous nights HW, gave my students notes, I modeled examples, we did guided practice, and started HW. That was basically how every class went, because I felt that a routine gave me the best chance of using every minute possible so that I could cover the wealth of standards I need to. I knew I wasn’t being creative, but I felt this was what was necessary to for students to learn all of the standards.
Now my class is completely different! HW is optional, I place some practice problems with answers in my google classroom if students need it. I do not follow the same routine every day, which is very freeing. I now have time to let conversations drift away from the main topic, and create better understanding of how different parts of math work together. I have time to do DESMOS activities, which are some of my favorite things to do in class. These activities help create a need for mathematical vocabulary and new mathematical skills, and help me create discourse. More importantly, more time in class gives me more opportunities to build connections and relationships with my students, which makes them enjoy class more and makes for a better overall learning environment.
More time in class has definitely helped my students, but also increasing the amount of time I have spent being engaged with mathematics has made me a better teacher. Over a year ago I was selected to be part of the first Desmos Fellowship , which has given me a great boost in my career. I met some amazing people through this fellowship, and now have a great community of math teachers to lean on when I need help. It also inspired me to be more active in social media with other teachers, these interaction have lead to some pretty amazing lesson in my classroom (Check out #MTBoS and #ITeachMath on twitter). Finding this time can be challenging, but giving up Facebook was a good trade off.
If we want our students to succeed to a higher level in math, I think the solution starts with giving them more time in their math classes in school. In my life experiences, to get better at something you have to make a time commitment to it!