I started my teaching career at Frisbie Middle School in 1972-73, after having majored in mathematics at Occidental College. Until 1977 I taught a variety of courses, including Algebra I and General Math for both 7th and 8th grade students. At that time I used a textbook and followed a technique that I now refer to as the "two-page spread":
- a sponge activity: a short assignment for students to work on while the teacher is taking roll;
- correcting or collecting homework;
- directing students to open their books to a specific page;
- introducing a concept using the blackboard or overhead projector;
- assigning practice problems, which the students worked on individually;
- walking around as they practiced, helping where needed;
- assigning the remaining problems as homework.
In 1977 I left Frisbie, not to return for ten years. Our first son was born in March of 1977, our second son in February of 1979. During that time my husband and I began to formalize our real philosophies of education. We subscribed to a periodical started by John Holt, and as we watched our sons grow, Holt's ideas about how children learn made sense to us. See Growing Without Schooling - An Interview with John Holt, by Robert Gilman.
In 1981 my husband, our two sons, and I left the United States to live in Dortmund, Germany. We soon found jobs as teachers of conversational English for the Berlitz School of Languages. My husband and I shared a job, housekeeping, and child-rearing, and the seven years that I spent in Europe were formative and educational years for me. I learned to rely on myself, observed how children learn - by watching them in the park for hours on end - and saw at first hand how people learn a foreign language.
I think the self-reliance I have acquired is one of the reasons that I feel compelled to create curriculum. I believe that I am able to organize material so that others can learn.
As I watched my sons learn to speak German, ride bikes, get along with others,
or play soccer, thoughts that I had gained from reading John Holt's ideas were reinforced. I believe that children want to learn. What they need from us is time and space and help. My job was to take my sons to environments that would encourage their learning, and to be there when they needed help.
At work I was using the Berlitz method to teach people to speak English. The Berlitz method is a special training technique. The teacher uses a picture book and leads the student through a sequence of steps. The vocabulary and the tenses are limited at first, and gradually more variation is added. The goal of the series of classes is to create an environment in which the student wants to have a conversation. Students have to reach a point where they are using their new language to communicate.
At Frisbie, I have used these experiences to try to create environments for learning in which students use their knowledge. Certain conditions cannot be changed at school: class size, the timetable students follow, and the prescribed curriculum are not determined by the classroom teacher. The environment in the classroom, however, can be set by the teacher. In my teaching I try to create, as best I can, an environment where students are given the tools they need so that they can choose to learn certain concepts.
When we returned from Europe I had no thought of returning to the classroom - but I did. There was an opening at Frisbie Middle School and I taught English in five different classrooms during the second semester of the 1987-88 school year. In 1988-89 there was an opening in mathematics, and I filled it. At that time I was still teaching using the "two-page" spread technique, but in the summer of 1989 I applied for and was accepted to the Inland Area Mathematics Project (IAMP) and I met Dr. Pamela Clute.. Pam taught me to love mathematics. Although I had majored in mathematics at Occidental College, I think I had never really understood math until I took Pam's class.
Having found joy in learning mathematics, and for the first time feeling completely empowered, I felt energized to share this with my students. I understood that students needed to have mathematical concepts taught to them using a variety of methods and presentations. Many do not learn mathematics by listening to an explanation and then practicing problems. They need to have experiences. They need to learn about the person who first thought of the concept. They need to know how the mathematics can be used in a real-world situation.
The following year our district implemented a new course, Math A, for ninth grade students who were not yet ready for the symbolic thinking of algebra. I volunteered to teach it and was immediately able to use all of the strategies and materials I had gathered during the Inland Area Mathematics Project.
In 1990-91 Frisbie piloted a curriculum offering only three classes to ninth grade students: Math A, Algebra I, and Geometry. Previously we had provided 5 levels of math and this change meant that the 3 lower levels would be grouped heterogeneously in Math A. It was great fun.
At that time, too, I earned my Master's Degree in Education with an emphasis on Educational Technology. This, along with the fact that Frisbie was changing to a middle school with the 9th graders moving to the high school, contributed to my move to becoming the Newspaper and Computer Elective teacher. One of the school's two computer labs became my classroom.
Until last year, 1996-97, I did not teach mathematics again, although my love for mathematics never left me. During the interim I served on two panels for the State of California during the mathematics adoption.
Reading and evaluating many instructional resources during the 1994 (full) and 1996 (supplemental) adoptions gave me a rich background in curriculum. I have been asked why and how I can choose and link to Web pages that seem so appropriate for what I am teaching. I think this is because I have seen so many different presentations of material that I have a developed sense of what is helpful and clear.
As a participant in the Math Forum's 1995 Summer Institute, Constructing Geometry on the Internet, I began learning HTML and finding my way around the Web. I also participated in the Forum's 1996 Summer Institute, Constructing Mathematics on the Internet. In 1997 I became a Math Forum Teacher Associate. I have been accepted as an onsite participant at the Developing Internet Mathematics Projects and Resources workshop to be held in July, 1998.
During the 1996-97 school year I taught one 8th grade general mathematics class in my classroom, a Macintosh computer lab, and wrote a Web unit coordinated with the 8th grade curriculum: Polyhedra in the Classroom. I also made a Reference Table
for Math 8.
My experiences with the Math Forum have been invaluable in allowing me to make connections between technology and curriculum. The Web is the perfect medium for me to combine my views about teaching mathematics, finding Web resources, finding computer software that fits with the curriculum, and displaying pages for my students to use. This year, as I have taught Math 7, I have been able to continue expanding my work. I have great hopes that next year I will again have the opportunity to teach Math 7 to be able to add to and refine what I have done this year with my students.