Teaching and Learning should bring JOY

I started writing this blog a few weeks ago.  At the time I felt it was not quite complete but I couldn’t get it to the point where I was happy with it.  Today I came across this image on Twitter that reminded me of the blog I had started and helped me pull it together.  It has been a long, tough winter term but I have been mindful every day of looking for the JOY in my teaching and learning.


I am fortunate to be teaching a delightful group of Year 11 students six hours per week for a combination of Physical Education and Mathematics – my HPE colleague also teaches them for six hours per week for a combination of PE and English.  This class reminds me every day that ‘teaching and learning should bring JOY’.

They continue to surprise me in the best of ways with their care for each other, their willingness to learn from each other, and their desire to succeed.  Teaching this group for six hours per week is an enabler for building strong learning relationships.  We have grown to know each other well and feel comfortable with each other, this  creates a safe and supportive learning environment, and it also means we experience a lot of JOY.  During one of our lessons the other week I laughed like I haven’t laughed with a class for a long time.  We were all participating in a karate lesson under the tutelage of the amazing Chris Gower – a true master of his craft!  He has a wonderful rapport with young people and has an incredible knack for reading people and knowing how far he can push them.  Karate is a great leveler and some very confident boys were literally brought to their knees (in the nicest possible way), with lots of humour thrown in for good measure.

At a workshop recently I was asked to reflect on what was going well for me, and what have I done recently to specifically target a group of learners and give them agency, this class came to mind.

A few weeks ago we began an algebra unit.  Now I should say that this is not your regular maths class – the maths department like to stream our learners and use that to determine what they can and can’t do.  The maths department does not like the fact that I have a mixed ability class – it challenges the way they do things.  It doesn’t fit their tidy, one-size fits all approach.  I have a class of 18 students, most of whom are well on their way to a merit or excellence endorsement in Physical Education – they love sport and physical activity.  Two are on track for a merit endorsement in maths, six still do not have their Level 1 numeracy, and the rest fall somewhere in between in terms of their mathematical NCEA achievement.

Last year (when we first ran this class) the Maths department said ‘don’t do algebra, you won’t be able to link it to a sports context, your students won’t be able to achieve, it will be too hard… ‘ etc.  But this meant that these students had a gap in their learning so that when they moved into Year 12 they were once again pigeon holed (and perhaps disadvantaged) and placed into a class with a very preconceived idea of what they could or couldn’t do.  So this year we (the students and I, with the support of the Asst HOD Maths) decided to give it a shot.

We began learning this topic as a whole class.  Our maths lessons follow the structure of a sports training session – warm-up, demonstrations and skills practise, and then a ‘modified game’ or applying what we have learnt to mathematical problems.  Right from the beginning engagement was high, and I had groups of students staying behind after the bell because they ‘just wanted to finish off the last problem’ – this was something I had not seen previously this year (the staying after the bell, not the engagement!).  More recently I have split the class into two groups – six students who are going to sit the Algebra MCAT (external) this coming week, and the rest of the class who are going to work towards a linear algebra internal AS.

Our school values are manaakitanga, excellence, perseverance and sauni (Samoan term for readiness).  Every day I witness these students demonstrate these values.  They seem to have developed a perfect balance of ‘competitive cooperativeness’.  In their small groups they will first individually attack a problem, they then compare solutions with some very robust justifications for what each came up with if they do not agree – this is the point at which I am called over; I make them each present their solutions, how they came to that solution and why they think it is correct.  Once I deliver the ‘verdict’ there is the inevitable noise that accompanies people celebrating or commiserating their ‘win’ or ‘loss’ so to speak.  But the key here is the next bit… the care these learners show for each other in making sure that every person in the group understands the process and the solution, and the perseverance from those who are learning from their mistakes.

I even managed to find some examples for the inevitable question ‘Miss, when I am ever going to use algebra outside of this classroom?’ – Get the Math (Shout out to Leanne Stubbing for finding this and sharing on twitter)

Who would have thought we would experience JOY in algebra – but for me it has been one of the highlights of the year seeing the sense of achievement students are experiencing from taking on the challenge of algebra and experiencing success in their learning.  Going back to the image at the start of this blog, one of the keys to success has been the building of significant relationships to enable significant learning to take place.

“This job is tough but we can do it.  We are educators and we were born to make a difference.” Rita Pierson

Look out for a blog from this amazing class of learners during #CENZ15 #WellyED


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