Monday, October 26, 2015

Always Striving to Improve - An interview with Jake Gentry

Jake Gentry is a teacher in the district where I work. He will be teaming up with me and Clark Rodeffer next week to present at the miGoogle conference in Brighton, Michigan. We'll present a similar session at the campus of Michigan State University a few days later.

Jake was one of the first teachers in our district to have a class Facebook page and he was flipping his lessons before most teachers knew what that meant. We have had a lot of fun together working on his annual project-based learning activity for his Geometry class. It made sense we'd work together on this conference session that focuses on "learning and creating like never before".

If you want to follow Jake on Twitter, you can find him at @jacobgentry1026.

As a way of introducing him for this session, here are a few questions I asked him recently:

Mike:  What are you teaching, where and how long have you been there?

Jake:  I've been teaching high school math at LakeVille High school for six years. In that time I've mainly taught Geometry and our Introductory Algebra courses.

Mike:  Why did you go into teaching and why math?

Jake:  To be honest I started studying Law and had a bad PR experience at work that made me question my path. I had some amazing college math professors and thought, I can do this.

I was one of those students in high school where things came naturally and didn't require a lot of effort. However, after getting distracted and having complications with a teacher, I failed Algebra II.

So there I was, looking for my path and realizing, I can teach math a little better than I was taught. Yeah...that's it.

Mike:  You've described yourself as an early adopter and I've seen that in your willingness to try new teaching strategies. What is your motivation when you so often change your approach?

Jake:  Well, when I first started teaching I realized there needed to be some type of system in place for students who were absent to catch up on missed material. I certainly couldn't sit down with them one on one, however. I thought if I made videos of my lessons than students could watch what they'd missed and not fall behind. That led to a summer of recording and editing.

That following school year I had a student say that they'd already taken Algebra II and wanted to take Geometry faster than the pace I was teaching at. My videos were the solution. That led into flipped teaching, which led into cooperative groups which transitioned into blended learning and here I am today trying PBLs and inquiry-based lessons.

Simply because I realize that I won't ever be able to teach every kid perfectly. But...if I can create a system in my class that gives students options (traditional, flipped, etc.) then I'm dramatically increasing their responsibility to their own learning and removing excuses for lack of engagement.

Students have responded dramatically well to the change in style of teaching. Each year the number of failures decreases and the number of students improving increases and isn't that the whole point of education? To take a student from where they are and get them to improve? However, most rooms are built around a system where the middle increases and the top and bottoms are bored...I'm simply trying to create a system where students can improve wherever they are.

Mike:  What will you be sharing in our session at miGoogle?

Jake:  At miGoogle I hope to give other teachers real world examples of how they can improve their classrooms by incorporating tools that allow students to be more involved in their learning. In one class this will look differently than in another, but motivated and equipped teachers may just need some positive examples to take the plunge.

One example will be our most recent inquiry-based lesson. After it, students were asked if they felt technology in the classroom could help them learn "a tremendous amount". Over 70% said they either agreed or strongly agreed. (You can read about that activity and the survey results here.)

Mike:  What's the biggest thing you've learned about technology use in the math classroom?

Jake:  Whether the technology helps the teacher create videos for sick students, give a formative assessment to the class, allow students to research and answer a guiding question or create and present a project, technology belongs in every classroom. From Twitter to Google Forms, the teacher's job is to direct or facilitate the learning and to determine the most opportune times to incorporate the technology (not to makes excuses why NOT to incorporate it).

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