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Sunday May 28th 2017
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Whatever it Takes: Redefining Roles in Saint Michael’s Math Classes

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By Megan Akaran

High School Math Teacher, Saint Michael, Alaska

When the 8th grade Pre-Algebra class struggled to understand the rules for special right triangles, their older peers stepped up to the task of teaching. The Algebra A class, which consists of tenth and twelfth graders, reviewed the concepts that were troubling their younger peers and developed a plan to teach them the necessary skills. They worked out examples to use with the students, chose teaching partners, and made sure they knew where ‘their students’ might struggle to understand.

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Armed with a dry erase board, markers and a plan, the Algebra A students were ready to teach. The 8th graders, while already frustrated by not understanding the material, willingly accepted help from their peers, and within a very short time they were able to master skills that had stumped them during the previous two days. “ I felt very smart,” said ‘teacher’ Jake Shelikoff who helped his younger brother learn how to find the leg of a 45-45-90 triangle when given the hypotenuse.

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After working on problems and answering questions in small groups, the 8th graders were given a quiz that their Algebra A ‘teachers’ graded. “He got 100%,” exclaimed Skye Shipton, one of the ‘teachers.’ “That makes me feel good because he learned that from me.”  When Courtney Lockwood and Diana Shelikoff reviewed the work of one of their ‘students,’ they were able to determine why the student had gotten the question incorrect and what the student needed to do to get the answer correct the next time. “I know what she did wrong,” Courtney remarked. They provided supportive and specific feedback on the quiz so that the student could learn from her mistake.  The 8th graders got a lot out of the experience as well. “It was really fun,” expressed Summer Myomick. “I actually learned,” said Gavin Martin.

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As it turns out, Gavin was correct, he did learn, and so did all of his classmates. With just 20 minutes of instruction from their peers, the class average increased 46%! Great job teaching and learning, Saint Michael students!!

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