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  • Writer's pictureBrianna Frerich

Thinking Classroom Journey--Day 1 (Part 1)--A Draft from the Vault (circa October 11, 2022)


This beauty is from my 5th year as a teacher, which would be my first year teaching high school, my first year in Arizona, and my first year using the "Building Thinking Classrooms" model introduced by Peter Liljedahl. So many firsts for me this last year. I remember fighting tooth and nail to avoid teaching when I moved to Arizona. The curriculum was so different, and I still had flashbacks to the poor, sad, over-worked and under-appreciated first year teacher I used to be, and I didn't want to pull that girl back out in this new state. But, when push comes to shove and you have to find a job fast in a city with as outrageous of a cost of living as Phoenix, Arizona, you gotta do what you gotta do. I knew this year was going to be challenging, and I knew it would basically be like being a first year teacher all over again. What I didn't set up myself up for initially was how much I was going to learn this year. I was to be teaching a subject that I at least had a general basis for: Algebra I. I knew that it would be a little different, as the standards for the state of Arizona were vastly different in measure than those of Oklahoma, even if many of the concepts were the same. Many subjects covered in the curriculum were concepts that I'd never taught before, or were concepts were focused on differently between the two states. I expected curricular changes going in. Those, I was mentally prepared for, but I really thought I would at least be able to salvage in part some of the things that I had previously used, thus giving me a slight leg up over first year, first year teacher Bri.

Then, as the year began, I ran into something that I wasn't expecting. Through a new teacher PD, the district's math coordinator introduced me to something that he was very passionate about, and that I too would gain a passion for. I was given "Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics," a book by Peter Liljedahl detailing the findings of his extensive research into best practices for math classrooms to encourage deep, critical thinking, and true, authentic learning. Without going into too much detail in this introduction, the book changed teaching for me. I still have never found anything that has resonated so deeply with my teaching philosophy. It was the perfect vision of everything I wanted for my classroom, and everything I wanted students to get out of my classes.

While I really could spill on Thinking Classrooms for like...ever, the purposes of this introduction is just to share this piece from the draft vault to clear it out. I think it does an okay job, in its unedited form, of detailing the basic observation of what I saw that day when I first introduced the idea of Thinking Classroom to them. Unfortunately, I only got the observations of one hour done during that lunch period. I'd have liked to have the rest of them done too, but eh...thus is life, particularly as a teacher. I gave up feeding myself for this haha

Anyway, I'm sure I will make future posts on Thinking Classrooms. If I ever return to teaching, in any kind of capacity (college professor-ing is still definitely on the table for me!), it will most likely be the basis for all my future classrooms (it's my "life's work!"). So, that being said, here's the brief introduction, unedited and [unfortunately] unfinished, to my first experience with Thinking Classroom in that Freshman Algebra I course. Without further ado, here is "Thinking Classroom Journey--Day 1 (Part 1)":


Hello! I am currently sitting on lunch after working 3 classes through my first "Thinking Classroom" test run. Honestly, I'm exhausted, which is why I wanted to do a partway debrief before my last two classes. Let me start with a brief background recap before diving into my results.

Background: [discuss "Thinking Classroom" Book, old classroom, old methods, etc.]

Environmental Factors:

This is the first day back from a week long Fall Break. Students are excited to be back, but also a little sluggish in remembering academic procedures (obviously COVID has had a major impact on those skills for them, and I see those relapses to well-disguised chaos every time we return from a break, almost like PTSD if you will). They are talkative, and prone to meeting up with their friends to discuss their break. Makes sense.

[discuss the activity]

1st Hour (07:25 - 08:25):

Students were a little shocked by the room. It's set up really differently from how it was when they left. Students were assigned a new random number drawn from a deck of shuffled cards before entering the room which told them which group to sit in. A few students ignored this and immediately sat with their friends. Overall, they seemed okay with the random seating (we've done that before in class prior to The Big Change).

Once class started, we tackled the elephant in the room right away: there's obviously some changes, and we discussed what they could look forward to (new groups picked at random each day, and more whiteboard work in groups on vertical whiteboards). Students were then told to put their backpacks in their chair (to ensure people didn't trip, as well as a cleverly disguised way of ensuring it would be harder for them to go sit down, or so I thought...) and go stand in their groups next to their whiteboards, and then once there were instructed to send one person to get their group one marker and one whiteboard eraser.

For this class, I had not yet worked out some of the things that I later would. I did not give directions in a huddle with students standing, nor did I let them ruminate on the first scenario of the activity given verbally before giving them the problem visually either; these are things I had fully adopted by the time that I did the activity with 4th hour.

Students were then verbally told the task. Many students wrote things down on their boards. I don't remember if I prompted them for this prior to reading the scenario or not. Students then set to work, while I immediately passed out the paper version of the scenario that I had read to them.

Students zipped through the first scenario. Many students (something I noticed all morning really) did not want to write anything on the board. The ones that did, tended to verbally write out their answer versus drawing a pictorial representation, as most teachers in my previous experience of the activity (myself included) had done.


Phones were a MAJOR issue today. I think I had about 15 different kids with phones out at some point or other in class. I had the usual offenders, who always have phones out and do nothing in class, but I had some other students as well. I'm not sure if, as they moved to the more challenging tasks, it was like a defense mechanism? Like, the problem was "too hard," so they immediately shut down and moved to something that involved much less brain power? Perhaps they used "too much" brain power, meaning way more than they're used to using.

Students also tended to want to sit down or mosey to other groups with their friends. They didn't even seem to care about making a show of it. Many students were talking to their friends in the middle of the room,

2nd Hour (08:30 - 09:30):

4th Hour (10:40 - 11:40):

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