Building “Thinking Classrooms”

Profile of a Jesuit Educator
Discerning Ways of Teaching and Learning

Model Prep Teachers Continue to Adapt to Changing Learning Styles
Dr. Nunes and Mr. Fabry Building “Thinking Classrooms”

Andrew Fabry is a well-respected teacher of mathematics. Chair of the department, his students learn at high levels and often report him as an excellent teacher. This year, however, he is changing the way he teaches his Algebra I class and it has made a huge impact.

Walk into his Jesuit Hall classroom during that period and you will probably not find him standing at the board and lecturing. Unless he is presenting a new concept, you will most likely see him moving around the classroom as his students, put into random groups, stand in front of a white board and work on problems together. Fabry interjects when needed but mostly observes the work being done.

“It’s a great way to offer a low-stakes assessment,” he says. “Most students naturally want to collaborate and this encourages them to learn together. They need to know the proper terminology so they can communicate and then help each other as needed.”

This change came about over the summer. Fabry read the book Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics, given to him by Kevin Gregorio, Director of Learning Services. “It gave me a lot to think about,” says Fabry. “This practice is based upon research so I decided to take the risk and it has been a major net improvement.”

Science teacher Dr. Geoff Nunes is a longtime proponent of this type of method. When he started teaching at the Prep a decade ago, he went to a workshop titled “Modeling Instruction in Physics” and it set his style.

“I definitely believe that students learn science by doing science,” he says. “They don’t learn that  F=ma from me. They do an experiment and discover it from observation.”

For many years, Nunes had his students get white boards and bring them back to their lab tables. Now, like Fabry, he uses standing boards in different areas of his classroom. “There is a different energy,” Nunes says. “Even on a Friday afternoon during last period, the energy level is high.”

It is also a good opportunity to gauge students’ knowledge, “to see how they are thinking,” Nunes says. Plus, he adds that “a student who really understands the material is often better at explaining it to other students than the teacher.”

For teachers, this new method required a leap of faith. “It is difficult to change something that you have been doing,” Nunes says. “The book pushed me to take the risk and change where I could to be a better teacher.”

“It was a gut check,” says Fabry. “The older you get, you get wisdom but also a bit set in your ways. Luckily at the Prep I have the academic freedom to try it and I liked it. It was clear that the students responded well.”

Fabry says that students will often high-five each other after getting a problem solved and Nunes says that they often ask for a new one right away. 

“This is part of an evolution,” Fabry says. “I am still learning and am glad to have Geoff as a colleague who I can check in with from time to time. It is something I hope to expand into other classes I teach.”
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