Ready for Back to School? Teachers Share How They Prepare
How are you getting ready for the start of the school year? In addition to curriculum obligations, you’re probably looking for fun ways to show students the beauty of math and science. In this blog, nine teachers share how they are preparing for the 2023–24 school year — involving marshmallows and Camembert — for their students!
Is engaging all students a priority for you, too? To make this happen, the teachers we interviewed use real-life events for projects and try out-of-the-box methods to support their teaching. Also, some teachers adapt their teaching style to involve all students or change the course of their lesson plan following inputs by students. They prepared thoroughly so they can improvise, which makes their lessons more fun.
How students prepare
So these teachers take the start of school very seriously, but how do their students prepare for back to school? “Well, they are startled when their alarm goes off on the first day of school and think ‘oh right, I need to go to school!’” said Dutch teacher Cathy Baars laughing. French teacher Jessica Estevez shared this experience and noticed that most students take a real vacation. “Their minds are fresh for the start of the new school year. Although I have to admit that some of them work all season long. They even return to school tired because they took courses, something that does help them later on.”
A year of successes
Portuguese teacher Fernanda Neri would love her school year to start with students like that. “I hope to see curious and hardworking students in September!” And what does she and the other teachers hope to achieve? “To be useful and to have a year of successes,” Raùl Aparício and Fernanda Neri shared. Their Portuguese colleague Alexandre Gomes would like to do a project with TI-Nspire™ CX technology, “And win a science and technology competition with my students again!” French teacher Isabelle Pazé wishes for a school year where she feels she can make a difference for the students. “Because it’s always nice to feel useful 😊,” she said. And Cathy Baars is mainly looking forward to a fresh start, while math teacher Frank van den Berg says that he is very curious how his exam class will do in the exams. “Of course, I hope that my teaching method will pay off!"
In the middle of summer vacation, most teachers are busy preparing an attractive curriculum for the new year. “We meet several times with a group of teachers to make a joint planning for the entire school year,” said Alexandre Gomes. “After this ‘kick-off’ I make a more detailed preparation for the first lessons and activities. I also check and update my technology, like my TI devices. Since I am a technology lover, I look for sites and places that have new scientific or technological gadgets that I can use in the classroom.”
Fun ways to explain math
A similar online search is done by Dutch teacher Frank van den Berg. “My preparation consists of looking for alternatives to the math book. Everyone learns in a different way, and I want to accommodate all students. That’s why I check the Texas Instruments websites, among others, to see if there are videos, GIFs or digital materials I can use. Even after 22 years of teaching math, I find surprising materials every year. Since students can concentrate for about 10 minutes, I think it is best to alternate short instructions with a video or another medium. If you use fun ways to explain math, you’ll have their attention for a while.”
French T3 teacher Jessica Estevez does an intensive preparation, starting as early as June. “I know that with good preparation, I will be better able to improvise. And remarkably, the lessons in which I improvised are usually the most interesting for students and at the same time rewarding for myself. So, for next year I have planned some challenges. I will start with the marshmallow challenge, a STEM project where students compete to build the tallest structure with spaghetti and marshmallow. And I have an escape game planned. During these challenges I observe the students and learn a lot from them. For the students in the final year I’m preparing a project where we fly a drone with the graphing calculator. That’s all part of my vacation homework!”
Setting up teacher trainings
Preparing for the new school year also includes setting up teacher trainings. In Germany, T3 instructors Sebastian Rauh and Hubert Langlotz are preparing those. “We are working on an introduction of the Notes module in the TI-Nspire™ CX CAS graphing calculator — and in particular the Math Box — to colleagues. Once you get to know this feature, you don’t want to miss it! So, we will offer an online training focused on this.” And Frank Liebner, T³ coordinator for Germany, Austria and Switzerland, is working on events for maths and sciences teachers. “We will present teaching concepts, do experiments, and develop new ideas to use digital tools in the classroom. Upon request, we will organise an extra event on the application of mathematical laws in chemistry lessons this year.”
Focus on teaching
In the new school year, teachers hope to be able to focus mainly on teaching. But in several schools they have to deal with new methods, like in Portugal. Raùl Aparício said, “For the 10th grade Math A class that I’m teaching, we will experiment with a new program. We are working on defining new lesson materials. As there are no textbooks, I am preparing assignments, especially for the first subject, together with the teachers who will also have a pilot class at the national level.”
Learning each year
Did our teachers ever get back to school unprepared? Not one among our nine teachers do! This is how French teacher Isabelle Pazé is preparing for BTS: “In June I start to think about materials, applications and how to support students to make progressions. But based on my experiences of last year, I will make a change in the new school year. I will teach on a lower level and try to make my teaching more accessible.”
This also goes for Portuguese teacher Fernanda Neri who may be implementing a change. She stated, “Each year is another learning experience on this path of preparing for my students. I have sometimes completely changed the course of the lesson plan due to developments. Like a student that shares news related to the theme that required a complete change of the plan.”
Farm of the future
Using real-life events can make for an interesting lesson series. For example, Dutch physics teacher Cathy Baars will launch the project “design the farm of the future” in September. “When I saw the news about the extreme temperatures and drought in Spain, an idea for a project formed. For this project I will divide the students into six groups. First, we start with lessons on how to use the TI-Nspire™ CX technology to control devices so they can design their solutions. Then they tackle challenges such as desalination, harnessing seawater, irrigating the land and designing a self-sufficient farm that is off the gas. I am curious what solutions they will come up with!”
Camembert in the classroom
Like Baars, the other teachers sometimes try out-of-the-box methods to support their teaching. But this does not always work out as planned … as with Frank van den Berg. He said, “I was working on circles with a group of students. I wanted to make it a bit more fun and started using a Camembert as an example. But none of the students knew what a Camembert was. So, I spent half an hour teaching about types of cheese. Then I just ditched the entire concept and used a sawed-off soda bottle to explain.”
There are so many ways to prepare for back to school, and teachers like the ones above continue finding new paths to teach math and science to their students in engaging ways. From planning together as teachers to using real-world applications to looking toward the future, we hope the ideas shared here will prompt your own spark of creativity. May you have a great and successful new school year!