It is hard to believe that my time at New Classrooms is coming to an end. As my weeks wind down, it is amazing to see the results of the work that I - along with my co-interns and our supervisors - have completed. As I mentioned in a previous update, my team uses an assessment tracker, which is shared between all of us on Google Docs, to keep track of the math assessment questions we are editing and the status of each question. Prior to working here, I never would have imagined the centrality a single Google Sheet could have in my life, even showing up in my dreams from time to time. The assessment tracker is color-coded according to the status of each question, and the color for questions we’ve published is white. When we started, the tracker was covered in different colors, and it is exciting to see the transformation that has taken place, and how many more cells in the spreadsheet are now white, indicating the large number of questions we have been able to publish.
Over the course of this internship, I have refreshed my mathematics skills, gained useful computer and coding skills, and have had valuable experience working in an office environment. I have spent my time here reading over mathematics questions, rewriting them so that they are useful, understandable, culturally relevant, and – importantly - fun for middle school math students. For each question, I have also written an explanation so students can learn how to solve the problems they might have gotten wrong the first time around. This has required a great deal middle school math, which, one might be surprised to learn, is quite difficult when you have not practiced it in your everyday life. Though much of this was easy to refresh, it also required a significant amount of reading and researching to relearn in order to write down in detailed, step-by-step, concise explanations. I have learned to anticipate what students might have trouble with and find ways to explain this in student-friendly terms.
Following this internship I will be student teaching in an elementary school, and I feel much more prepared than before. Prior to this, I had had many invaluable experiences working with children, but New Classrooms is one of the first experiences I had where I delved into the content I will be teaching, rather than just the methods with which to teach. Not only am I more brushed up on math skills, but I feel that as a result I’ve also strengthened my ability to teach math and explain concepts to students, as well as anticipate students’ needs and questions when planning a lesson, hopefully rendering the lessons more effective from the start.
The process of publishing the assessment questions involves coding the questions into a software that enables the problems to be interactive. The software contains different “interactions,” allowing students to categorize, drag and drop tiles, choose from multiple answers, plot points on a number line, and more. For one thing, these activities have given me a plethora of innovative methods to choose from when planning my own lessons. Though my lessons might not always involve the level of technology that these questions do, I can build from the concepts of these methods to plan my own lessons. Working with this software has also showed me how easy it can be to learn new mark-up and coding languages, and how useful this can be in a math classroom. While I remain conscious of bringing too much technology into a classroom, I am also aware of its ability to open up the learning process and reflect students’ varying needs and skill sets.
Until this internship, I had not spent much time in an office setting. I really appreciated the environment of working and collaborating with others in a highly innovative setting. The people at the office are encouraging and supportive to one another, as well as cognizant of the fact that everyone has more happening in their lives than what was at the office. Meetings felt exciting, as new ideas were constantly being born and expanded upon. During one meeting, I was surprised to find out that this year is the first year that Teach to One (the math curriculum that New Classrooms created and sells) has not been completely revamped. This meant that the people here have been dedicated to reworking and rebuilding Teach to One for many consistent years until they found a successful model, which they now still continue to tweak and improve in order to reflect the needs of schools.
This is the kind of environment I will aim to create in my classroom. While classrooms can easily become competitive environments due to grades and testing, I will strive towards a classroom environment in which students are excited about working together and in which new ideas are constantly taking shape. I want the classroom to be a place where students and teachers alike are seen as whole beings who can bring parts of their lives outside of school into the classroom, and where those experiences are considered during the learning and teaching process. Math, specifically, is a subject that can often feel removed from everyday life. Through my experience at New Classrooms, I feel confident going into elementary education with the ability to make math fun, innovative, and relevant to students’ lives.
Over the past few weeks, I have developed a rhythm here at New Classrooms. My two co-interns and I have been quickly making our way through the math assessment editing. Our process begins with an assessment tracker, which notes the status of each assessment question and allows us to track which questions still need to be coded into the software. Once one of us codes a question, we send it over to one of the other two co-interns, who does the problem from the perspective of a student in middle school student, and then that intern edits it. Next, we send it on to our supervisors who do a final editing before publishing.
I have gained a strong feeling of ownership over the work I have been doing in this position. With each question that I work on, I have the power to enable a student to understand or reinforce one’s understanding of a mathematical concept. I need to write in the feedback for a student who might get the answer wrong, and that requires an understanding and articulate explanation of the mathematical concept. I feel really lucky to be immersed in these mathematical concepts before I continue my path to being an elementary school educator. I am learning how to give feedback and guide students through difficult math concepts, and I am also relearning these concepts myself. I am also noticing which concepts have stuck with me throughout my own schooling and which have not, and trying to determine which teaching methods were effective and which were less effective when I was a student. As my student teaching becomes closer and closer, I picture myself teaching the mathematics concepts and lessons on which I am working at New Classrooms, and I know that this is a preparation for which I am very grateful.
In addition to learning about the inner workings of creating math assessment content, I have also learned an immense amount about what goes on inside a non-profit organization and start-up. Our supervisor recently gave us (the co-interns and I) an overview of the different branches of the organization, revealing to us the ways in which the organization functions like a beehive, as one of my co-interns put it, with everyone doing a small share of work to allow it to function cohesively. This is something I’ve noticed specifically at our weekly academic team meetings as well. The first fifteen minutes of the meetings is a time for members of the team to update the rest of the group on their various projects. I am always excited by the fact that everyone in that room is working in smaller groups on different projects to come together for the greater project that makes up the academic team.
I have also been grappling with the role of money in a non-profit startup like one. It is extremely costly and labor-intensive produce the lesson plans, human resources, and materials for schools, and the main form of funds for New Classrooms comes from investors and donors. This means that we as an organization are often beholden to the desires and visions of those donating. This has pros and cons. Many of the people who donate money do so because they appreciate the work of the organization and their goals do not differ with our own. At the same time, receiving conditional donations does not always allow an organization to expand in ways it wishes or thinks is best. I am interested in thinking, over the next few weeks of my internship, of ways that funds can be brought in without being tied to people. Another issue is that in order to provide programming, schools need to be able to pay for our product. However, one of the greatest issues in education today is the uneven distribution of resources among public schools. Therefore, I would like to look more into the types of schools that have the ability to purchase the New Classrooms product and which schools get left behind in this. I am interested in figuring out ways for us to be more accessible to all schools, given the effectiveness of the personalized education product that New Classrooms sells. I plan on discussing these questions with coworkers who have worked at New Classrooms and as educators in public schools, as I am sure that many of them have come across these questions as well. In the next few weeks, I may work on some different projects with some of the other employees here. I expect to get see what goes on in the actual lesson planning, rather than just the assessment questions, or “exit slips,” as they are called here. I look forward to working with more people here and getting to know other parts of the organization.
If you have ever wondered what goes into writing assessment questions, my internship will fascinate you. I recently began working at New Classrooms Innovation Partners as an assessment consultant, where I help to write, edit, and format middle school math assessment questions. My team includes two other interns, or assessment consultants, and two New Classrooms employees who work on assessment content, and we are all part of the greater academic team here at New Classrooms. Many of the employees here are former classroom teachers who have felt compelled towards working policy, content, and curriculum work as a consequence of their classroom experiences. I have met many knowledgeable, experienced, and dedicated educators here at News Classrooms.
I have been at New Classrooms for a week and have already learned many practical skills. I am gaining new knowledge and love for technology and the possibilities that it provides while I remain wary of the rapid transition towards relying on electronics in the classroom. I have begun learning coding and mark-up languages, and am inspired to learn more. As I edit the assessment questions, I am also entering them into a software to make them interactive and student-friendly. I develop algorithms for scoring the problems, as well as write in the feedback that students will see depending on if they get the answers correct, almost correct, or incorrect. It has been challenging, in a positive way, to write feedback that provides a clear and concise explanation of the math question and the concept. Some of the questions also necessitate that I include the variety of possibilities of correct answers that a student might provide. This has required a great deal of anticipation on my part given that I am coming at the question from a completely different position than a student.
I have already had many opportunities to apply the theories that I engaged with in Barnard education courses to the work I that am doing. The math assessment questions that I am working on are categorized by skill rather than age level, with the goal of providing a personalized education that allows students to take the time they need to master a skill. New Classrooms works to incorporate technology into classrooms to further achieve these goals. Having taken courses at Barnard about multicultural pedagogy, math education and social justice, and contemporary issues in education, I have been cognizant of the wording and subjects of the questions and have been working to make them culturally diverse and relevant.
The internship is preparing me well for my future as a classroom elementary school teacher. I am gaining a deeper insight into the world of mathematics education and the attempts to provide alternatives to traditional pedagogies. Yesterday was my first academic team meeting, and the entire hour was devoted to the use of manipulatives in the classroom. Manipulatives are three-dimensional objects that students can use in the classroom to help learn mathematical concepts and solve math problems. While many classrooms have standard manipulatives, such as base-ten blocks and unifix cubes, manipulatives can be any object that students can use to count. I remember using m&m’s as manipulatives when I was in first grade. We discussed the advantages to using manipulatives: with a visual and tangible aid, students can develop a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts. They can solve them by working them out with objects, rather than by using memorized algorithms that they might not truly understand. For example, manipulatives tend to be especially helpful when trying to understand multiplication and division, as students can use them to group objects in various ways. We also discussed the drawbacks to manipulatives: they are often misused because they can seem like toys to students, teachers don’t always know how to implement them, and they can become a crutch for students when solving math problems. Lastly, we discussed ways that we as an organization can provide support to teachers so that they can effectively bring manipulatives into the classroom.
In the next few weeks, I hope to become more familiar with the software I am using and learn more coding languages. I want to learn more specifically about manipulative in classrooms and how using them might vary when schools have fewer or greater resources. I am looking forward to various other topics that we will continue to delve into in the future, and storing the information I learn here to use in my classroom. I am very excited to continue doing math problems and coding them to make them accessible and interactive for middle school students and their teachers.