Creating High Performance Learning Environments

Teaching-Learning Analysis


The following is an analytic review of high performance expectations in three different teaching strategies.


Video #1: Roller Coaster Physics: STEM in Action


Donna Migdol uses project based learning to teach physics fundamentals to her students. The roller coaster project allows students to understand physics concepts through the hands-on engineering of model roller coasters. Students use simple materials for physical construction and computer programming to more accurately test model construction. Students are placed in small groups and each student is responsible for different parts of the project. The academic expectation in this project is to successfully apply physics theories in a process of trial and error to an actual working construction model. The teacher demonstrates her demand that students understand the process by constantly questioning the students and asking them to explain their ideas and thought process. Amiable and collaborative behavior is necessary to successfully complete a group project that requires failure and success. Students must be willing to listen to each other and consider other ideas. The video shows students sharing ideas, taking initiative, and helping each other work through problems. The video does not show how the teacher creates this environment or what the ramifications are for students not willing to be a team player, but based on the attitude and behavior of the students shown in the video, the teacher obviously established an environment of teamwork. Groups seem to be successfully working together and recognize the expectation that their work is accomplished as a team rather than an individual. It is clear that one of the normal class procedures is group and individual responsibility. Students are expected to work closely with their group to solve problems and create solutions. The expectation that students will essentially self- teach demands students be focused and alert during the entire class period.



Video #2: 3rd Grade Chinese Math Class

Reference Article: What Makes Chinese Math Lessons so good?


This short video demonstrates the routine practice Chinese education believes is important for memorizing and understanding mathematic concepts (Interesting to note, the children in this video are not Chinese). Based on the age group, the students are most likely learning basic number functions. Repetition or song-style learning methods is indeed a differential teaching method that has a high level of success, but cannot always stand alone. The reference article goes into further detail about the standard of Chinese math education and the strategies many Chinese schools employ. The overall mathematic academic goal is to develop conceptual and procedural knowledge through rigid practice. Students are frequently asked to prove their solutions to problems in front of the whole class and teachers push students’ knowledge base with use of prompting questions such as, “Why?” or “How?” or “What if”. The article goes on to explain that mathematic format is also a strict standard in the grading rubric. Students lose points if their equation and problem format is not completely correct. There is clearly a high expectation within the school system for students to master mathematic concepts and overall knowledge, but most Chinese teachers teach a single subject and do not tend to integrate concepts across subject curriculum.   While within math class students may be completely proficient, they are not getting any exposure to how math can influence or is connected to other subjects. It can be argued that many Chinese students are not developing the ability to connect ideas and concepts across a range of material. For example, how are numerical values used in music or art or computer science?   No specific behavior standards are addressed in the video or article, but it is assumed that behavior distracting from learning is not tolerated. Chinese students have to prove their proficiency during national testing periods. For students preparing to go to college, this test comes once a year, unlike America’s SAT that can be taken multiple times throughout the year. The pressure on students to test well thwarts a lot of poor behavior temptations. The norm in the Chinese classroom is to do well. The Chinese culture expects individual success to profit the entire family. Students who perform poorly in school are also performing poorly for their family.


Video #3: Whole Brain Teaching


Whole Brain teaching is a method that incorporates physical movement to facilitate memory. According to its research, the strategy strengthens and uses many parts of the brain at the same time. The video didn’t necessarily convey a high standard of academic standards, but it did display a high expectation of physical performance standards. The teacher obviously expects the entire class to participate in the procedural physical and verbal motions practiced within the classroom. It could be assumed that the behavior expectations lend to high academic standards since students are clearly expected to follow the teacher’s call and response and physical gestures. Focus, in some part, demands student contribution to class content. Creating such a highly focus-driven environment demands student participation as well as sharp classroom management skills. The Whole Brain method is very procedural based. Because the Whole Brain procedures are a part of regular curriculum, it establishes a lot of participation norms that may promote high academic performance when administered correctly.


Summary Analysis: Setting High Performance Expectations Among My Students


My analysis of the above examples is compared and contrasted to my last class who were all Korean elementary English learners.

Anytime students are given the opportunity to put subject matter into practice, it facilitates in-depth learning and promotes complete comprehension. The roller coaster physics project was a great example of a relevant project-based learning experience. As a teacher, any time I can give my students the opportunity to apply content in a new way, I am enabling them to learn to fail and create solutions. For example, engaging my English learners in verbal conversations that challenged their grammar and vocabulary knowledge gave them a platform to try, fail, and try again. The application of knowledge is an essential component to a student’s education. The Chinese mathematic education method resembles project-based learning in that they want students to know how to apply old knowledge to new problems as well as explore their understanding of mathematical elements by answering why/how/what if questions. Although as opposed to the Chinese method of subject content isolation, I think it is crucial students connect the dots between subject matter. When teaching paragraph format to my younger students, I used mathematical terminology to describe patterns that can be used in writing. I think powerful problem solving comes from the ability to use all of the tools around you to derive a solution. If you can’t find the math and science in art, you aren’t looking hard enough. The Whole Brain teaching method is an interesting way to engage students, and it also speaks to the necessary connection of the physical and mental. In a brief digression, incorporating the functions of brain that effect physical and mental functions is a potential method of combating the ADD/ADHD epidemic. Constant call and response techniques do not feel natural to my personality, but I am interested in experimenting with this technique and figuring out how I can incorporate it into my classroom in a way that feels comfortable to me. The variety of classroom strategies and methods can be overwhelming to a new teacher, but more than anything I believe it is important to be honest with what you can and cannot handle. But, if I want my students to learn success through failure, then I also have to be vulnerable enough to risk trying something new.


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