Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Year In Review

Now that the last session of the math club is done for the year it seems appropriate to look back and reflect on my experiences. Going into the process, I thought that while I had plenty of math experience and had tutored my own children one on one that group situations would be a lot harder. I've read elsewhere that teachers take two years to become seasoned and figure out how to manage a room and that is while being in the classroom full time. I have to say, that this year has given me a small taste of the challenge and I'm a bit in awe of how full time teachers accomplish as much as they do. I only had a room of 15 kids once a week for an hour and that afforded me the luxury of spending a week planning what to do.

After my first session jitters I found the process to be most similar to running meetings at work as opposed to working with my sons on a math problem. And just like meetings the more preparation, the better off things go. With that said I hope to accelerate my own improvement by reflecting on each session as much as possible to wring out the maximum feedback. If I were really bold I would videotape myself but I fear that would be too much for me to watch.

So without further ado and reserving my right to completely change my mind after another year:

Subject Material

1. Be prepared for finishing a task early but also be confident enough to plunge right into the main task if it looks like it needs the full hour.

2. Geometry is awesome.  What's not to like about problems that almost have multiple solutions and require the smallest number of techniques to discover fairly profound phenomena.

3. If an activity comes in multiple levels always take advantage of that.

4. Always try to do the activity yourself beforehand and near enough to the session that you don't forget anything, This is really key especially if you don't think as well on your feet in front of a group. Give yourself permission to say I have to think about that if you get stuck. :)

5. Organize your materials and double check them. In front of a crowd is not the time to sort your papers.

6. Figure out your relative pace vs. the kids. I find that I should usually multiple however long it takes me by 2x or 3x.

7. For now I'm sticking with a whimsical/quirky approach to programming. I basically go with my gut and don't attempt to be systematic or sequential in anyway. I've had some conversations with others that indicates that sequencing is less effective anyway in a weekly extra curricular.

Classroom Management

1. Be explicit. This is a hard one for me but you need to have upfront talks about behavior expectations. I found it especially useful to have the kids voice their opinions on why they were in the room and how they wanted it to operate.

2. Maintain boundaries. Early on, I let some of the kids free range in the room and touch some of the classroom objects that they really shouldn't have without immediately correcting the problem. This has taken two months to rein back in again. Once a threshold is crossed it is so much harder to repair.  Likewise in the idea that we are club not a class  I let the kids be as noisy as they wanted. This established a bad norm. Next year I'm going to insist more strictly on quiet talk so others aren't disturbed who like calmer working environments.

3. Interact directly with kids who are going astray. Most kids will be course corrected by a minute or two of one on one time.

4. Ask for help. Additional parent volunteers are a really easy way to make things run more smoothly.

5. Think carefully about transitions (and minimize them).


1. Don't provide regular snacks. I thought this would build camaraderie but instead it was a bit of a logistical nightmare. If I delayed serving the snacks, the kids would focus on them to the detriment of the math. I always had to worry about messes. And somehow food brings out a weird competitive streak in a bunch of otherwise  normal children. As soon as you have portions, someone is going to worry about if they are all the same size. Bring two varieties of a cheese cracker and heaven help you if one box runs out too soon.  Occasional unexpected treats are the way to go.  They buy love but are not taken for granted and you can provide them on a convenient schedule.

2. Sequencing is not important. That's the great thing about being a club. Math class follows the curriculum. We just need to concentrate on joy.


1. Pay attention to everyone in the room. I'm not really methodical about this yet and its something to work on. Likewise as I posted elsewhere I'm musing about how much to hint and what kind of hints give.

2.  Find more games.

3. Find the right approach for take home activities. My current idea is to try again with a problem a week and track how many are done and give collective treats when we reach certain thresholds. I.e. after 15 completed problems from the groups bring in cookies.


Here's my topic map for the year showing what we covered:

1 comment:

  1. I'm about to start up a maths club, also grade 4-5, though smaller to start with (aiming for 5-6 in the group). Have lots of ideas but hearing from one who's actually been doing it = very valuable. Many thanks for sharing your reflections & resources.