summer professional reading: Engaging Minds in Science and Math Classrooms

Posted on: July 11th, 2017 by jnovakowski

Sharing some of my summer reading here on the blog.

First professional read of the summer -

IMG_6149Engaging Minds in Science and Math Classrooms: The Surprising Power of Joy by Eric Brunsell and Michelle A. Fleming. Published in 2014 by the ASCD.

This book is a follow-up to Engaging Minds in the Classroom: The Surprising Power of Joy by Michael F. Opitz and Michael P. Ford. These two original authors edited this volume. They define joyful learning as “acquiring knowledge or skills in ways that cause pleasure or happiness.” They surmise that when students are engaged learners, joy emanates from the learning process. Their joyful learning framework is the foundation for this follow-up book.

This book has four short chapters -

1) Understanding Joyful Learning in Science and Math

Drawing upon current research, the authors outline the joyful learning framework and answer the question Why joyful learning? with:

  • it capitalizes on what we know and how to best motivate students.
  • it enables us to build upon what we currently know about engagement
  • it enables us to focus on the whole child
  • it acknowledges that the learner is influenced by the contexts in which learning takes place

2) Evaluating and Assessing Joyful Learning

This chapter outlines frameworks to evaluate learners, ourselves as teachers, texts and materials, assessments and school-wide configurations. The frameworks for evaluating learners parallels the one for evaluating teachers and both provide some thoughtful questions for consideration.

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3) Implementing Joyful Learning in Science and Math

Strategies, structures and examples of ways to implement joyful learning are provide for several contexts: school community, classroom environment, whole-group instruction, small-group instruction and individual instruction.

4) Using Joyful Learning to Support Education Initiatives

The final chapters makes connections to standards, accountability and assessment, RTI, achievement gaps and professional development, drawing upon research studies to support the importance of engagement and interest in learning to standardized test results.

The book ends with a reminder to teachers to assess their own joyful learning and to look for joy in unexpected places and a quote from author Henri Nouwen:

“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”

The ideas of identity, student self-efficacy, challenge, choice, creativity and goal orientation resonate throughout the book. This speaks to me about students’ understanding of what it means to be a learner and what their role in that is – not as a passive, compliant recipient, but as a fully engaged, curious learner.

One issue that the authors return through out the book is that for students to be engaged in joyful learning, they need to focus themselves on “mastery” goals (learning that focuses on learning content) versus performance goals (learning for the purpose of getting a grade or being compared to others). After hearing Megan Franke’s keynote presentation at the CGI Conference in Seattle this year, I bristle at the term “mastery” and would rather consider these goals as just learning goals.

Another area of interest that reading this book re-ignited for me was the concept of engagement. I have thought about this a lot over the years and read quite a bit in this area during my doctoral studies. The authors look at the relationship between motivation and engagement but don’t tease apart what they mean by engagement very thoroughly even though they come back to and use this term throughout the book. They describe engagement as “being attentive, committed, persistent, and seeking meaning.” There are many types of engagement – physical, emotional, cognitive etc and sometimes I think compliance can actually be perceived as engagement which is a concern.

As I zipped through this quick read, I made many connections to both of the books Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler and Embracing a Culture of Joy: How Educators Can Bring Joy to Their Classrooms Each Day by Dean Shareski. I highly recommend both of these books!

~Janice

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