"Why do I give you time during class to work on your math problems?"
"It is busy work? You want us to do something during class?"
"You're a nice teacher? You want us to have less to do outside of class?"

Wrong! Neither was the the answer I was looking for today. The point I was trying to make with my students as we end the school year is the value of collaboration. While students are in class, they have access to....
  • answers posted on the board - that's right, all homework answers are "free" in this classroom
  • other students who are generally working on the same assignment - an invaluable resource as group work is highly encouraged on a daily basis
  • me, the instructor as I wander around the room and peek over their shoulders looking for common misconceptions and answering as many questions as possible in the allotted time.
Can I really blame my students for answering the "why class time?" question? Next year, I plan on focusing more on classroom culture. Emphasizing the importance of what we do and why we do it on a frequent basis is a first step in this direction. Here's a start at a few frequently asked questions and the responses I'd like my students to ideally answer after a semester in my classroom.
  1. Why am I assigned homework problems each and every day?
    Homework is practice. I need it to figure out what I "know" and what I "don't know" so that I can ask questions when I don't understand something. Not doing homework is like not trying on a pair of pants in the dressing room before purchasing them - a risk!

  2. Why do you get time during class to work on homework problems?
    During class, I have access to answers, friends and my teacher! At home, these resources are not readily available. It's like looking for food at the grocery store - all around me!

  3. Why do we take quizzes in this class?
    Quizzes are a way to find out "what I know" and "what I don't know" in a more structured format. It's a great opportunity to get detailed feedback and learn from my mistakes.

This list is just the beginning as I continue to think about changing the culture of my math classroom. Looking ahead to next year, what questions (and ideal responses) are important to you as you think about the classroom culture?