Friday, November 6, 2015

Learning Labs (aka my new favorite PD)

Yesterday afternoon I had the opportunity to attend a learning lab.  If you don't know what a learning lab is, I'll try to give a brief explanation.  A teacher agrees to "host" a lab in their classroom.  This means they will create a lesson (with the guidance of an instructional coach) and teach it in front of a bunch of other teachers (we had 7).  Then everyone (including the host teacher) would reflect on the lesson with some noticings and wonderings.  So here's what happened...

We all met after lunch for about 30 minutes to learn about our host teacher's lesson.  What she was hoping for when she planned it, where her kids are academically, the make up of her class, what she's worried about, etc.  We also set some norms for when we actually observed her lesson, like where to sit, if we're allowed to move to hear students better, should we talk to them at all, etc.

After that we spent about 55 minutes watching her teach her lesson...and it was awesome!

Her lesson was essentially teaching her 4th graders about the concept of inverse operations, which is typically a pretty dull topic.  In our pre-observation meeting she told us that she was trying to focus on purposeful talk, and utilizing the Guided Release of Responsibility lesson planning model during her lesson.  She also admitted that she personally has a hard time letting the kids talk as much as they should because she LOVES to teach, and she had in her head that teaching meant direct instruction.  That's probably an exaggeration, because I've seen her teach, and I know she does a lot of things that aren't just direct instruction.  At any rate, she acknowledges that she needs to be very intentional about letting kids work together and learn from each other more.

She started her lesson with a really fun hook, pretending to be a math magician (when in reality she was just using inverse operations to figure out a students starting number).  The kids bought it, it was awesome!  Then she let them struggle with how she did it.  They worked in pairs that had been set up & were guided to use some "purposeful talk" cards that they have to help with their discussion.  Eventually she stopped them and they worked through some of their ideas...still no one had it quite yet.  Instead of just giving them the answer, she turned it back to the kids after they had a class discussion.  I think she was noticing that a few were on the verge of figuring it out...they knew she worked backwards, but weren't getting the inverse operations yet.  After turning it back to the kids, several of them figured it out.  Then she moved them into groups to figure out her starting number.  They worked together, and tried to practice their purposeful talk.  Purposeful talk is really hard to do, but they were making an effort to talk math and help each other.   After that, they gathered together again & she showed a visual with cubes of adding/subtracting fact families (knowledge they had from 1st-3rd grade).  She had them write the "inverse" operations with a very simple example 3 + 4 =7.  They got it...then she challenged them to moving it into 4th grade math and gave them a much harder problem...I don't remember the exact problem, but it was something like 643 + 395 = 1,038.  Then she challenged them to show the inverse operations.  All tried, many succeeded.  Then she ended up doing some direct instruction with solving it, and visually connected the parts of the original problem to the parts in the inverse, proving she was right, it was like 28 little light bulbs went on at the same time.  At that point we had to leave, and she sent the kiddos back to their seat to do some independent practice.  We missed her wrap up, and I'm pretty bummed about it.  Apparently she asked the kids why she taught them that...why in the world should they know how to do inverse operations.  One little girl raised her hand and said, "because then we can always check to see if our answer is right."  Whoa...they got it!

After the lesson was done, we all met together to debrief, talk about what we noticed, and often follow up with a wondering of our own.  The discussion we had was so powerful.  It reinforced something I've known for a long time, but tend to forget...reflection is powerful.  I thought back and realized I started this blog to give myself a place to reflect on my teaching, specifically about my flipped classroom.  In the past few years I haven't been very consistent about blogging because I wasn't sure what else I had to share.  I started to think too much about my audience, and not enough about why I started writing in the first place.

SO, I plan to start weekly reflections again.  Only this time it won't be about just my flipped classroom, I'm going to reflect on my teaching as a whole.

My next post will be about all the things I want to try now that I've experienced a learning lab ;)


  1. What a great idea to engage students! It takes a somewhat boring subject and getting students interested. This inspires me to try something like this in my own classroom. Thank you for sharing.

  2. A nice approach that you have shared this kind of information that can guide more people to know more on how to do that kind of learning that you have.