Learning Strategies

SMATH: How to Turn 2 Subjects Into 1 Super-Class

By Amanda Cooper and Brandi Todd     May 1, 2017

SMATH: How to Turn 2 Subjects Into 1 Super-Class

As educators, we always encourage our students to work together; we promise them two heads are better than one. But with so much happening in our individual classrooms, we teachers often don’t take our own good advice.

Last year at Piedmont Elementary in Alabama, we decided to finally try it. We took our respective subjects—science and math—combined forces, and created one super-class: what our students affectionately call smath.

Smath was born out of a realization that the old way of doing things wasn’t working. New Common Core math standards and Next Generation Science Standards were being implemented, and subjects were becoming more interconnected. Technology was also providing a surplus of real-time data we still weren’t sure how to best use. We realized combining classes could help us integrate science and math standards, while team-teaching would allow us to differentiate instruction.

Of course, combining classes is easier said than done. But with a little planning, teamwork, and the support of your administration, we believe any school can make it a reality. Here’s how we did it:

How smath works

Scheduling

In the past, our school’s schedule allotted 75 minutes for each class period. In order to merge two subjects, we combined math and science periods into one 150-minute block. This allows us to meet as a whole group for a 20-30 minute math and science mini-lesson at the beginning of the period, before dividing the students into small groups for the rest of class. It also prevents other subjects from being negatively affected.

Arranging

Because we’ve combined two classes, we have double the students. Although we’d love to have one huge classroom, we just don’t have the space. So we’ve created two separate rooms with distinct purposes. The first space is a 50-student “lecture hall” where we hold whole-group mini-lessons, complete with projectors. The second space is our eight-table “science lab,” where students can experiment, build and collaborate. When the time comes for differentiated, small group instruction, we divide students up between the two classrooms, which are next door to each other, allowing students to move easily between groups.

Planning

At the beginning of the year, we sat down with our respective standards to discuss strategy. Math generally follows a more linear progression throughout the year, so we paired science standards to math units we felt were a logical fit. Throughout the year, we set aside weekly time to meet and develop lessons and hands-on activities. We’ve also come up with set routines that can carry over from week to week, for example daily computer-based math-centered activities. This cuts down on daily planning time.

Co-teaching

We are very fortunate to be friends as well as co-workers. However, as with any relationship, there are times when we might not see eye-to-eye. We use our co-teaching situation as an example for our students to see how people must work together in a respectful manner. We tell them that we don't always agree on everything, however, we respect each other and talk through our differences instead of getting angry or upset.

A few examples to wet your whistle

Once the details were sorted, it was time to start learning. We started with a unit on scientific experiments and changes in variables, which we paired with lessons on mathematical graphs and charts. Some students constructed model airplanes and tested their flights while observing how changing one variable, such as weight, could change the data. 

We’ve also combined a unit on the Earth’s rotation with a math unit on the conversion of metric measurements. Students traced and measured the shadows created by a pencil that was placed through chart paper on the ground throughout the school day. They then had to convert their measurements into different units while using the metric system. To display the scientific information they discovered, the students created two different types of graphs to show the times of day compared to the length of the shadows. It was smath that made these units richer and more rigorous, but the benefits don’t end there.

Benefits for students—and teachers

Besides making learning more engaging, combining classes has helped students progress academically. The data from our NWEA benchmark assessments from the 2015-2016 school year showed that our students made significant growth in math, and our state standardized assessment results also showed significant improvement from the previous year's scores.

But we have also seen other benefits. Co-teaching provides us with ideas we never would have thought of on our own. Having two teachers also allows for one to monitor the class to ensure the students are on task while the other one is presenting a whole group lesson.

It also helps alleviate some of the side-effects of calling in a sub. If one of us must be absent due to illness, the lessons are still taught because they were planned by both of us, therefore, there are no missed opportunities for instruction.

Perhaps best of all, smath always us to personalize learning in new ways. As the students are working on individual assignments, we are able to access real-time data, which immediately provides feedback, allowing us to target and help students that are experiencing difficulties with the material. By having two teachers and combining two classes, the students’ needs are much more easily met therefore improving upon methods and strategies used in the past.

Two teachers, two classrooms, one super-class

As you can see, smath has really helped renew our zeal for teaching. Having a teaching partner makes the profession not as lonely as it has been in the past. And not only do we enjoy the model, but our students are constantly expressing their love for smath and their excitement for learning. So get out there are start combining! Sometimes the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.

Brandi Todd has been an elementary teacher for sixteen years. She achieved National Board Certification in 2011. 

Amanda Cooper has been in the classroom for 18 years: the first eight in 2nd grade and the remainder as a 5th grade teacher. They both worked with Education Elements to make smath a reality. 

Learning Strategies

SMATH: How to Turn 2 Subjects Into 1 Super-Class

By Amanda Cooper and Brandi Todd     May 1, 2017

SMATH: How to Turn 2 Subjects Into 1 Super-Class

As educators, we always encourage our students to work together; we promise them two heads are better than one. But with so much happening in our individual classrooms, we teachers often don’t take our own good advice.

Last year at Piedmont Elementary in Alabama, we decided to finally try it. We took our respective subjects—science and math—combined forces, and created one super-class: what our students affectionately call smath.

Smath was born out of a realization that the old way of doing things wasn’t working. New Common Core math standards and Next Generation Science Standards were being implemented, and subjects were becoming more interconnected. Technology was also providing a surplus of real-time data we still weren’t sure how to best use. We realized combining classes could help us integrate science and math standards, while team-teaching would allow us to differentiate instruction.

Of course, combining classes is easier said than done. But with a little planning, teamwork, and the support of your administration, we believe any school can make it a reality. Here’s how we did it:

How smath works

Scheduling

In the past, our school’s schedule allotted 75 minutes for each class period. In order to merge two subjects, we combined math and science periods into one 150-minute block. This allows us to meet as a whole group for a 20-30 minute math and science mini-lesson at the beginning of the period, before dividing the students into small groups for the rest of class. It also prevents other subjects from being negatively affected.

Arranging

Because we’ve combined two classes, we have double the students. Although we’d love to have one huge classroom, we just don’t have the space. So we’ve created two separate rooms with distinct purposes. The first space is a 50-student “lecture hall” where we hold whole-group mini-lessons, complete with projectors. The second space is our eight-table “science lab,” where students can experiment, build and collaborate. When the time comes for differentiated, small group instruction, we divide students up between the two classrooms, which are next door to each other, allowing students to move easily between groups.

Planning

At the beginning of the year, we sat down with our respective standards to discuss strategy. Math generally follows a more linear progression throughout the year, so we paired science standards to math units we felt were a logical fit. Throughout the year, we set aside weekly time to meet and develop lessons and hands-on activities. We’ve also come up with set routines that can carry over from week to week, for example daily computer-based math-centered activities. This cuts down on daily planning time.

Co-teaching

We are very fortunate to be friends as well as co-workers. However, as with any relationship, there are times when we might not see eye-to-eye. We use our co-teaching situation as an example for our students to see how people must work together in a respectful manner. We tell them that we don't always agree on everything, however, we respect each other and talk through our differences instead of getting angry or upset.

A few examples to wet your whistle

Once the details were sorted, it was time to start learning. We started with a unit on scientific experiments and changes in variables, which we paired with lessons on mathematical graphs and charts. Some students constructed model airplanes and tested their flights while observing how changing one variable, such as weight, could change the data. 

We’ve also combined a unit on the Earth’s rotation with a math unit on the conversion of metric measurements. Students traced and measured the shadows created by a pencil that was placed through chart paper on the ground throughout the school day. They then had to convert their measurements into different units while using the metric system. To display the scientific information they discovered, the students created two different types of graphs to show the times of day compared to the length of the shadows. It was smath that made these units richer and more rigorous, but the benefits don’t end there.

Benefits for students—and teachers

Besides making learning more engaging, combining classes has helped students progress academically. The data from our NWEA benchmark assessments from the 2015-2016 school year showed that our students made significant growth in math, and our state standardized assessment results also showed significant improvement from the previous year's scores.

But we have also seen other benefits. Co-teaching provides us with ideas we never would have thought of on our own. Having two teachers also allows for one to monitor the class to ensure the students are on task while the other one is presenting a whole group lesson.

It also helps alleviate some of the side-effects of calling in a sub. If one of us must be absent due to illness, the lessons are still taught because they were planned by both of us, therefore, there are no missed opportunities for instruction.

Perhaps best of all, smath always us to personalize learning in new ways. As the students are working on individual assignments, we are able to access real-time data, which immediately provides feedback, allowing us to target and help students that are experiencing difficulties with the material. By having two teachers and combining two classes, the students’ needs are much more easily met therefore improving upon methods and strategies used in the past.

Two teachers, two classrooms, one super-class

As you can see, smath has really helped renew our zeal for teaching. Having a teaching partner makes the profession not as lonely as it has been in the past. And not only do we enjoy the model, but our students are constantly expressing their love for smath and their excitement for learning. So get out there are start combining! Sometimes the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.

Brandi Todd has been an elementary teacher for sixteen years. She achieved National Board Certification in 2011. 

Amanda Cooper has been in the classroom for 18 years: the first eight in 2nd grade and the remainder as a 5th grade teacher. They both worked with Education Elements to make smath a reality. 

STAY UP TO DATE ON EDTECH
News, research, and opportunities - sent weekly.
STAY UP TO DATE ON EDTECH
News, research, and opportunities - sent weekly.