My North Star, Part 1: From ROTATION to CREATION


I have a confession to make: To date, my math classroom is still a space where students are unimpressed and performance is unimpressive.

Don’t get me wrong, my kids are awesome: They work hard and have good hearts. But if I were to reflect honestly about transitioning from a traditional “I Do/We Do/You Do” whole-group format to a three-station rotation model, the results are not as compelling as I had hoped. Yes, having students move efficiently between computers, independent work time, and small groups with me has had many benefits:

  • It’s improved the culture of my room, as students have found the variety of learning formats and tasks much more engaging than a traditional model.
  • It’s dramatically decreased behavior issues and discipline, allowing me to deliver more content and less discipline.
  • It’s reduced the teacher-to-student ratio by a third, building differentiation into our classroom.
  • It’s even made us look good: Our transitions are so smooth that we could have been in a teacher how-to video (the Jeopardy song cue gives everyone 30 seconds to get to work at their next station)!

However, all of these gains have still not created an environment that will produce the type of citizens that my students need and deserve to be. My kids deserve to walk into a class where they will be impressed by the relevance of math to their lives. They need to walk out of that same class impressing others by the way they think and talk about the world around them. As it stands, my blended learning model is not pushing students to the point where they are no longer just consumers of content and technology—they are producers as well.


Consequently, I will be using this summer to pilot a Summit Public Schools-inspired model that balances Personal Learning Time (PLT) and Project Time (PT).  The North Star of my pilot will be discovering how to best structure the project-based learning to build grit in my kids and inspire them to be change-makers. I believe that if students understand and love that learning is a lifelong process, they will not be baffled when we expect them to continue learning during the last few days before summer break. If my kids are going to reach their amazing potential, they are going to need to realize that education is a privilege—and that to whom much is given, much is expected. Consequently, their education is not just for them—it is actually a tool for them to better serve their communities.

To me, this Maya Angelou quote embodies the difference between trying to “get” students to understand the purpose of learning versus experiencing the joy and empowerment of self-motivated learning:

Students can hear me tell them that a certain math skill is relevant, and they can even solve (neatly packaged) problems that simulate how people in the “real world” are using math on a daily basis. However, the crux of what all of us teachers are trying to do in the classroom is to combat the misunderstanding that somehow “getting an education” means completing work that is completely irrelevant and uninteresting.

This is why I will be implementing “Creation Time” (thanks for the lingo, West Belden!), where students will use the design process to create prototypes for fixing social issues that the class has chosen as its theme. By using math in the service of current events, students will have more chances to make connections between class and life, access and analyze information for nuances, and form opinions and ideas to impact the world. Instead of hearing that tired exclamation, ”Oh, you’re good at math? You should consider becoming an engineer!,” they will practice and feel what it is like to be a design engineer now.

My students must see that the purpose of education is not to simply give answers to questions, but to find solutions to the world’s problems. If my students can know what it feels like to use education to serve others, my classroom will not just be a space of efficient consumption and practice—it will be one of meaningful creation. #goals

Desiree Smith, 2015 Education Innovation Fellow
Center City Public Charter Schools—Congress Heights Campus


One thought on “My North Star, Part 1: From ROTATION to CREATION

  1. Pingback: A Summer of Innovation: Part 1 | Education Innovation D.C.

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