By Raymond Steinmetz

A month ago, I took a step in my career that I had been trying to avoid for years.  On the advice and help from my coach (Christina Corser, the enforcer) from the FuseRI program at the Highlander Institute, I developed and delivered a professional development session on Blended Learning in the Math Classroom to my colleagues in Portsmouth.  This was a big step for me.  I had been shying away from giving professional development for the last few years.

To be completely honest, I find presenting in front of other educators incredibly intimidating.  This probably stems from the fact that I myself am exceedingly critical about the professional development that I have been a part of in my career.  I hadn’t felt like I had received much professional development that produced actionable changes in my classroom.  I always felt that the time could be better spent educating myself and getting work done.  Needless to say, I hadn’t had a lot of great professional development experiences in my career.  Hence the negative attitude.

I’m not sure why I was shying away from giving sharing with my colleagues.  In my previous role as a Math Instructional Coach in Illinois before I moved to Rhode Island, I gave plenty of professional development to math teachers.  But in the last three years as a new teacher at my school in Rhode Island, I hadn’t had the opportunity to be in a leadership role and present to teachers in my district.  I guess I just wasn’t ready to put myself out there again.

All of this changed about a month ago.  The day after I presented to my colleagues in Portsmouth, I started this blog and my Twitter handle (shout out to Tim Marum for talking me into Twitter).  Later that week, I attended the Blended and Personalized Learning Conference from the Highlander Institute and blogged about what I had learned.  I returned back to my classroom and completely changed my practice.  I taught an entire unit on Surface Area and Volume without teaching in front of the class at all.  My students were thrilled by the change of pace.  Personally, the last month has rejuvenated my career and encouraged me to pursue writing about education as a side project.


I wanted to share some detailed results from my first full unit of teaching only through self-paced playlists.  The unit was one that I had taught in front of the class for years.  Surface Area and Volume of Prisms can be challenging for 7th grade students.  In order to use the Surface Area formula (SA = 2B + Ph), a student has to use several other geometric formulas and be able to analyze and identify many aspects of the 3D shape represented on paper.  In my planning binder, I even found a retake version of the unit test – evidence that my students had struggled in the past.  Here is what happened:

  • In my two accelerated classes, I taught composite surface area and volume of prisms for the first time.  Regardless of the added difficulty on the test, these classes absolutely KILLED IT.  They averaged a 94% on the test and only one student scored slightly below mastery (80%).
  • In my three other sections, I have students with a wide range of abilities.  I have several Tier 2 and 3 RTI students.  I also have many students who receive special education services.  Needless to say, there are students in these classes who struggle with math.  These classes averaged an 87% and only 8 students scored below mastery (80%).
  • I did have 3 students fail the test.  It should be said that students fail tests all of the time – that’s life as a teacher.  Looking back at the self-paced nature of the unit, I had to ask myself whether these students would have passed if I would have taught the unit differently.  I also had to ask myself if I offered enough help to these students.  In these cases, I can safely look back and say that these students did not do the necessary work.  In all three cases, I provided plenty of assistance and even emailed home to inform the parents that they were behind on the playlist early in the unit.  These students made a choice not to further their own learning and received the grades they earned as a result.

Moving Forward

Based on the results, I would say that allowing my students to learn at their own pace was an overwhelming success.  Removing myself from the front of the room not only produced better results, but it also left more time for extensions and valuable inquiry tasks.  After we were done with this unit, my class spent about a week reviewing for the upcoming RICAS state assessment.  In doing so, I went back to teaching in front of the whole class several times simply because I didn’t have time to recreate materials I had used in the past.  I also gave regular homework in an effort to squeeze in even more review.  Returning to my old ways felt completely antiquated and a waste of time.  I guess I learned my lesson – I’ll never do that again.

Mr. Steinmetz