Ms. Bridget Mason, a high school geometry teacher originally from Chicago and now teaching in Philadelphia, isn’t your average math teacher. Her set of highly effective activities & engagement tricks inside and outside the classroom, accompanied by her sheer passion about everything she does around school, make her the role model for every young teacher in the school district. I still remember talking to her for the first time – it was around 2:30am her time (with a school day the next morning) and she wouldn’t give me any less than the most insightful perspectives into her best practices and early learning as a teacher. This week, she decided to do something special – she decided to share her to-the-point weekly lesson planning template that helps her “visualize the entire week”. And we have done the bare minimum of paying it forward by allowing any of you to build off of that (details below the interview).
We caught up with Ms. Mason to learn about her pro-tips for new teachers and exactly learn how she turned her “exhausting” planning process into a far more effective and smarter process:
OC: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Ms. Mason: “Teacher” was never on a list of professions that seriously interested me until I began running a volunteer program that brought college students in to work at city high schools. I loved running the volunteer program, but thought that I might enjoy teaching because my favorite part of the volunteer program was interacting with the high school students. After a year working in public schools, I went through an alternative certification program that allowed me to student teach over the summer, take a month-long crash course in educating, and start teaching in the fall while taking graduate courses at night. It seemed like a convenient concept at the time, but in retrospect, I would have been better off with a lot more preparation. I arrived at my first school, certified to teach high school science in a classroom for children with special needs. When I got there, they had different plans: I taught two levels of English, Algebra 1, Remedial math, and Health as a first-year teacher. After that year, I decided I most enjoyed teaching Math, so I took the test to become a certified math teacher and have been teaching just Algebra and Geometry for the past four years.
OC: How do you plan your lessons? What do you consider in trying to make them engaging and effective?
Ms. Mason: Lesson-planning has always been a challenge for me. I am most effective as a teacher when I’m prepared, but I get caught up in the details and planning a single lesson sometimes turns into an hours-long process. When I started teaching, I would plan day-by-day every night. It was exhausting and ineffective. After another teacher suggested that I try to start planning for the whole week, I tried it out and found that it worked well for me to have a week-long set of learning objectives, a pre-made assessment for the end of the week or the set of objectives, and adjust the specifics of the plans day by day depending on whatever variables happened to be in play (student misunderstanding, poor attendance, snow days, sick days, etc). Having a chunk of objectives to tackle in a week and an assessment to which I align my instruction and practice work has made a world of difference in student performance. I definitely still have those lessons that take hours of forethought and prep, but now a far more sustainable number of them.
OC: What are your favorite tools (websites, software, non-digital tools) in the planning process?
Ms. Mason: Honestly? Screen shot. I teach primarily Geometry this year and don’t think the textbook that is available through my district is the best resource for myself or my students. After an unsuccessful year of trying to use the provided textbook as our primary class resource, I’ve tracked down digital versions of half a dozen different geometry books, powerpoint presentations and practice activities of other teachers, and math tutoring websites. I pick through everything to find the examples and practice and activities I want, and instead of having to recreate things, I just take a picture, save it to my desktop, and insert it onto a powerpoint or handout.
Also, I never thought I’d say this, but I’ve started to think that Pinterest is an excellent resource. Lots of the stuff available is more on the elementary side, but there are some great project ideas that I’ve used outright, or modified to make them more appropriate for my students. If you haven’t yet, check it out.
And students. My kids never hesitate to tell me if they don’t understand something, don’t like a way I teach something, or have a better idea for how the class can understand or practice a concept. Though I haven’t yet figured out a way to accommodate daily requests for “survivor jeopardy,” scavenger hunts, spaghetti projects, and carousel competitions, I haven’t yet found a student who has lied about a way he or she DID want to learn. When I can figure out a way to make accommodations of the above sort, it’s often a good bit of extra time and effort, but I almost always get that same extra time and effort from my students in return.
OC: What do you like most about OpenCurriculum?
Ms. Mason: The only way I’ve improved as a teach has been through collaborative efforts, whether with students, administrators, or other teachers. School days are a crazy whirlwind from 8am to 3pm, and I rarely have time to observe or interact with other teachers during the course of the school day. Additionally, many teachers don’t have time to observe me, and a lot of them have other jobs after school and aren’t available after the mad rush is over. I love the idea of OpenCurriculum as a space where educators can collaborate, including time outside of the school day, so that we can get and give feedback that will inevitably benefit our practice and the learning of our students.
OC: Give a little bit of a rational behind your weekly lesson planning template.
Ms. Mason: Like I said earlier, lesson planning is kind of a challenge. The weekly planner helps me visualize the entire week and be realistic about what material I should expect to cover with my classes. It also forces me to succinctly identify objectives and the steps I need to take to ensure that my students reach those objectives.
OC: What would be your one pro tip for new teachers?
Ms. Mason: Take care of yourself. Don’t skimp on sleep or healthy eating. There’s a huge difference between being hungry and sleep-deprived, and being hungry and sleep-deprived while in charge of educating/entertaining hundreds of teenagers for the next 7 hours. If you’re miserable, your students will know it and they will be miserable with you. [I made the picture a few years ago and most of my colleagues agreed it was pretty accurate: It's inevitable that your first year will be supremely difficult and you'll probably find yourself feeling less competent/less confident/less a capable adult than you ever thought you could (see picture), but whenever you get a chance, try to be good to yourself. Eat a vegetable and take a nap.]
(end of interview)
And now, we introduce some glimpses of Ms. Mason’s template: