Sunday, April 17, 2011

Rock Star Teacher: Jonathan Winn

  It's a few minutes after 7 a.m. on a drizzly Friday morning and math teacher Jonathan Winn is standing just outside his first period classroom yelling at the top of his lungs, his voice reverberating across campus. "How does that go?!" He's not so much yelling at his students as yelling for them, exhorting them to shout out the answer to a complex calculus problem, in unison. A few minutes later, Winn is dressed in a wig and a white ruffled shirt, playing 18th-century mathematician Gottfried Leibniz doing calculus in Paris. Later in the 90-minute class, he puts on a drum major's hat and exchanges drum beats and claps with his students.
This is how they roll in Winn's AP calculus class on the campus of Crawford High Educational Complex in San Diego, California. Teaching the most popular class on campus, Winn fills every one of the 100 seats in the school's theater -- and there's a waiting list to get into his class. One in ten of the students are native English speakers and 95 percent of them receive free or reduced lunch. While Winn's theatrical antics are entertaining, he insists they are part of a collection of proven techniques to get the most from his students. And he gets results: some 80% of seniors who have gone through the Crawford's math curriculum have received at least one acceptance letter to a four-year university.
Winn says his success in the classroom didn't come easily. "In my first teaching assignment, I was way overwhelmed. I quit after two years, cleaned out my retirement account and I went to Thailand for like three or four months and taught English over there and thought I was never coming back." But he did return to San Diego, and that's when he started observing several master teachers. He was especially impressed by the work of Crawford's 9th grade algebra teacher Carl Munn, who insists that every student can succeed at math in high school. After observing one of Winn's lectures, veteran teacher Becky Breedlove came out of retirement to volunteer in his classroom. She thought, "how does a guy plan, prepare, and deliver these amazing lessons for more than 100 students and keep up with the paperwork? I said I'd help with the paperwork part and I ended up staying and coming every single day."
Winn has helped raise money to bus students to testing centers for their AP and SAT exams, and helped jump start a popular math club. While he occasionally works with students into the night and on weekends at school, he also makes time for his personal passion, surfing. "Being out in the water is a really important experience for me. Being on the edge of a wave, being out there and potentially falling and getting crunched... In that moment, you have to figure it out -- it's kind of like a life or death situation. I don't think calculus is life or death for the students, but I do think that when you're faced with a really tough problem, you either have the skills and the capacity to rise up, or you don't -- and I believe that the key is self-belief."

Winn has just been voted San Diego Unified School District's High School Teacher of the Year.

Tips for success in the classroom

I had the pleasure of hanging out a bit with Jonathan and observing his classrooms for 2 days while shooting this video. What struck me, in addition to the 100% engagement of his students, was his dedication to improving his craft. He shared these tips:
1. Learn from the masters. Winn says he was “way overwhelmed” by his first teaching assignment and quit after two years of frustration. He taught English in Thailand for a few months, then returned to San Diego and began to seek out master teachers. He met Carl Munn at Crawford High School, and observed his class for months. Munn lead Winn to Jaime Escalante and other mater teachers who were happy to share their secrets. When you are struggling, take a break and observe a master teacher. And don’t be afraid to borrow techniques from them if they are doing things that will work for your students.
2. Consistency- Be on time to class every day. To help set the tone that instructional time is extremely valuable, have regular activities for students to do before and after the bell rings. “I want them to know that the second they walk in the door, it is time to get to work”.
3. Tailor lessons to the needs of students. Textbooks and lesson plans are not “one size fits all” solutions. Look at the curriculum standards and the skills and needs of your students. If you have to re-write the book to meet their needs, do it.
4. A bell or chime is a simple, effective way to transition between segments of a class, e.g. from direct instruction to individual think time. It cues a psychological shift.
5. Math is an opportunity for students to feel successful, for teachers to give positive feedback. Understand that the eraser is the most important part of pencil. Making and correcting mistakes leads to greater self-confidence.

No comments: