I like to think of myself as a changemaker educator. When I notice that something could be changed to better support and challenge my students, I bring about the necessary change. I take risks and try new things to help my students grow and develop. Sure, sometimes I fail and make mistakes, but in the process, I learn and grow as well. I find new and better ways to teach my students. I persevere through the difficult times because I know it’s all part of the journey. The good times often come with some bad times sprinkled in. Teaching is like that light at the end of the tunnel. I teach because I love the challenge of trying to help every student be his or her best. I teach because I love learning from my students. I teach because I like finding the needle in my haystack of a classroom.
Over the years, I’ve changed, altered, rewritten, updated, revamped, and reworked my curriculum and teaching practices with the sole purpose of better helping my students. I want my students to learn the valuable skills that will help them learn to live meaningful lives in a global society. I want my lessons and units to engage and challenge the students. I want my students to see the value and benefit in hard work and great effort. I want my students to love what they are doing so much that they don’t even realize they are honing their basic skills. While I’m not completely married or tied to my curriculum, I do enjoy what we’ve done in the sixth grade this year. The students are having fun, growing as a community, learning many crucial skills, and building their foundation of knowledge. Sure, I will make adjustments and tweaks next year, but overall, I’ve been pleased with the results I’ve seen in the classroom this year. My students are transforming from concrete to abstract thinkers. They are learning to collaborate with their peers to solve problems. They are thinking critically about the world around them to find unique and creative solutions to problems encountered. It’s pretty awesome.
Today in STEM class, I was able to see, first-hand, the fruits of my labors. I got to witness the results of years of hard work. Because I’ve been constantly revising my sixth grade curriculum year in and year out to better support and challenge my students, I was able to see what I saw today in the sixth grade classroom. The students began working on the Stock Market Game as part of our current STEM unit. I began the period by explaining to the students what the stock market is and how it works. I then modelled how to utilize the Stock Market Game website. The students asked many insightful and curious questions. They seemed very excited and engaged. I then explained the steps they would need to complete in class today before they could begin choosing stocks to purchase and make their first transaction. They were chomping at the bit to get started and invest their $100,000. While I didn’t want to beat a dead horse and bore them to death by providing my students too much information or background, I did want to be sure they had a basic understanding of the stock market and how the game will work. I then let them get right to work. While a few students still had some lingering questions as they began choosing team names, most every group was filled with positive energy. They were so excited to find just the right companies in which to invest so that they would receive the biggest return and win the class competition. The students chose fun team names like Stock Beaters, Mighty Morphin’ Stock Exchangers, and the Cardigan Stockers. I was impressed by their enthusiasm and excitement. Then they worked with their partner to understand and decipher the rules of the Stock Market Game. How much could they invest in one company? Is there a minimum on stock purchases? What is the broker fee for purchases? As the groups completed this phase of the game, they received their Stock Market Game website login information and their Record Sheet, which meant that they could begin researching stocks, bonds, and funds to purchase. They couldn’t wait to research their favorite companies or find new ones of which they’ve never heard. The affirmative energy in the classroom was so palpable that you could almost smell it. Or perhaps that was the scent of smelly socks that filled my nostrils.
As the students worked together to play the Stock Market Game, one student asked, “Why haven’t we worked on math recently in STEM class?” It was at that moment, that I realized I had hit the goldmine of activities. Even though the students were adding, multiplying, and finding percentages of numbers to demonstrate their understanding of the rules of the game, they had no idea that they were actually applying the math skills they had learned and been introduced to during the first part of the year. The fun and engagement factors were so high that the learning was almost invisible to them while completely evident to my co-teacher and I. We saw the boys multiplying and moving decimal points accurately while all they saw was the competition. Brilliant, I thought. They were so excited about this game that they didn’t even realize how much math they were actually doing. My response to this student included two questions, “What about that worksheet you just completed with your partner? How did you find out how much the broker fee would be for the stock purchase?” He then explained the math that he and his partner had done to find the answer. While he hadn’t really heard what he had said, I paraphrased it back to him, “So, you used math skills to answer a question. Isn’t that doing math?” A lightbulb seemed to go off within him as he processed what I asked him. He got it. Then we both chuckled a little bit before he got right back to work having fun doing math.
Many years ago, I used to think math had to be taught using a textbook and examples on the board, little did I know back then how wrong I truly was. Sure, math can be taught that way, but it’s not the most effective, relevant, or engaging way to help students learn the vital math skills needed to matriculate into the next grade. I like to use fun and exciting activities to help the students apply and practice using the math skills we learn throughout the year in the sixth grade. Yes, we use a textbook periodically during the year to teach math skills to the students, but we do so in a very student-centered manner. We also supplement the textbook learning with meaningful and real-world activities like the Stock Market Game. The students are then able to see how important learning basic math skills are to their success in life. Knowing how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide numbers to calculate various things is crucial. As the students had a blast unknowingly applying their math skills to the Stock Market Game today, I realized that my years of planning a student-centered and engaging curriculum had paid off. I had happened upon a winner here, and it’s moments like these that make me so happy I found my true passion as a teacher.