I think the question that frames my philosophy of education and my approach to facilitating learning is “If you could create a school, what would it look like?” By asking myself this question, I was forced to synthesize my experience and readings into a more coherent statement of my beliefs. Keeping this framing question in mind, my philosophy of education progresses from definitions of terms (ie. student, teacher, and learner) and their meaning to me into my beliefs about learning.

Unlike traditional approaches to education, I believe that there isn’t a strict teacher-s­­­­tudent binary. The traditional school of thought dictates teachers transfer knowledge and information to students, while students passively receive the knowledge. It is my belief that both teachers and students are learners in the classroom. The relationship is reciprocal, students and teachers learn from one another. Having acknowledged the reciprocity of the teacher-student relationship, the way I engage with students must be fundamentally different from traditional lecture style and its accompanying passive learning practices. It means that students must be treated as equals rather than subjects.

Since we are all learners, students must be taught reasoning and literacy skills before they can work collaboratively with each other and the teacher to solve problems. This school of thought emphasizes the learning of principles rather than facts in isolation. We can’t possibly retain all of the isolated facts we learn throughout our lives. We can, however, recall and apply understandings, principles and logical reasoning to diverse problems. It’s the liberal arts. Today’s learners must be equipped to critically engage literature and media in all forms. To that end, I believe all students must be literate, in mathematics, technology and literature. The common core standards for mathematical practice allude to the importance of teaching principles, critical reasoning and communication. These standards are important because they are abiding and transferable. Even if a student has never encountered a problem like the one he/she currently faces, he/she can apply critical reasoning skills and principles he/she has learned and practiced in class.

Learners achieve mastery of principles and reasoning skills by practicing them as they interact with and internalize content area knowledge. I believe that humans of all ages are social learners and as such, must be engaged in solving problems with other people. A part of this social learning process requires students know how to identify problems, propose solutions based on critical reasoning and evaluate/defend their own and their peers’ reasoning. This approach gives learners an active role in their own education, requiring them to construct arguments based on intuition and logic. Constructing sound arguments depends heavily on students past and current knowledge.

One of the end goals of the learning process is for each student to be conscious of his/her freedoms, to be able to recognize social injustice and to apply reasoning and social skills to take constructive action. It’s important for teachers to recognize that learners, regardless of age or grade level, are participants in a democratic classroom. The students’ classroom experience is a chance for them to develop as independent thinkers and future citizens of the world. To that end, classroom instruction should include lessons and activities that promote social awareness of current and impending social issues.

What does this conception look like in the classroom?

Instead of traditional modes of mathematics instruction, my class will not be centered on quizzes and tests. Quizzes and tests instead will function as a formative assessment to benchmark student progress. The main focus will be on inquiry based learning. The projects that result from inquiry based learning activities will be compiled in a student portfolio and the academic rigor of their work will be the basis for their semester grade. Projects will integrate informational and narrative texts to bolster students’ mathematics comprehension skills and integrate content area literacy instruction best practices. Students will also write journal entries in response to essential questions that will be incorporated into final portfolios.