Saturday, November 14, 2009


Anyone who has gone through a teaching program has probably heard rave reviews about the knowledge activation process known as a K-W-L. You start a unit by folding a paper into thirds and writing across the top of each third, "What do I know/What do I want to know/What have I learned." I agreed in my college education classes that it sounded great, especially when your students have some basic ideas about the topic you are about to delve into.

Then I began teaching high school math. I never used it. The acronym came across my mental field of vision occasionally and I scoffed it off, thinking how it might be used in a middle school or elementary setting, or even high school science or history, but not high school math. Come on now.

Flash forward: I have been at a conference for the last two days where I heard a presentation about creating a professional culture at your school and ways to encourage faculty to expand their teaching repertoire pedagogically. The presenter was pulling out examples to highlight his main points and of course pulls out the old standby, a K-W-L. And suddenly there it was: maximums and minimums in calculus!

How had I never came up with this idea before? The students know about maxs and mins, we've graphed sine and cosine functions and I've asked the kids if there are any points where they know exact value of the slope and of course, they point out the maxs and mins. There must be thoughts bouncing around their brains about these points and zero slope; if I could just access those and get them excited to find these points easily with their knowledge of derivatives...

Hurrah for K-W-L's! I'm starting this unit after Thanksgiving and I'll let you know if the K-W-L transforms my unit and is worth all the hoopla it has always received.

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