Good evening all. My name is Luke Wilcox and I am a math teacher at East Kentwood High School, which is the #1 most diverse public school in the state of Michigan. We have over 70 different languages being spoken in our hallways.

I’d like to start by taking you back 23 years to my first year of teaching at East Kentwood High School. My classroom looked a lot different than it does now. Desks in nice neat rows. Teacher lecturing. Students quietly taking notes. Like this student here.

And I was getting decent results. Grades were good and failure rates were fairly low. Despite this apparent success, my student surveys revealed some unintended negative consequences of my lecture-based instruction. Here is what I found:

Students told me there was too much sit-and-get instruction.

Students were good at memorizing algorithms, but struggled with problem solving.

Not all of my students were finding the same levels of success.

I started to think that my classroom needed a refresh. I was lucky enough to have some inspiring colleagues who began challenging me to shift my classroom to be more student-focused. The big change happened when my colleague Lindsey Gallas and I set out to build a new Intro Stats class.

We wanted it to be interactive and driven by student thinking. After much trial and error, we finally arrived at an instructional model that we now call Experience First, Formalize Later – or EFFL for short.

So what does this model look like? Most lessons start with a big question to be investigated. Nothing too mathy here…just hoping to spark some natural curiosity. Is climate change real? How fast does Spotify Download music?

Then before any teacher instruction, students begin by working on the activity together in small groups where they try out ideas, develop and refine strategies, and build on the ideas of their peers. Students are then invited to write their ideas on the whiteboard.

The teacher then uses the student responses to launch a full-class debrief of the activity. Students are asked to explain their thinking and the teacher builds on these ideas, often making connections between different student responses.

The real formalization is when the teacher gives names to the student's discoveries by layering formal definitions, formulas, and notation on top of the student work. In the end, the teacher helps students summarize the big ideas of the lesson.

This is not a new idea in math education. There has been mountains of past research showing that a student-centered approach works. What makes EFFL different is that it provides a specific framework for this learning to happen. Now, back to my classroom:

This is Ebise Tarekegn. After 3 years of EFFL math classes at East Kentwood High School, she was inspired to pursue a STEM degree from Michigan State University, where she will become the first in her family to earn a college degree.

And this EFFL teaching model is not just for Ebise. It works for all students. But most importantly, it is for the silenced students who have been left behind in the traditional lecture-based instructional model. Here is what my students have told me:

Students now take personal ownership for their learning.

Students are much better at thinking and reasoning, rather than memorizing.

A much wider group of students is finding real success in this model.

And then in 2018, I was recognized as the Michigan Teacher of the Year – an honor that provided me with the opportunity to visit math classrooms around the country. I was hopeful and excited to see more student-centered learning in action.

But that is not what I saw in classrooms.

What I saw was nice neat rows. Teachers lecturing. Students quietly taking notes. And the result of this is that a lot of students are being left behind.

It became clear to me that we need a big change in math education. A shift in who is in charge of learning. A shift away from memorizing algorithms. A shift away from silenced students.

What we need is an EFFL revolution.

True revolutions are not created by a top-down leader with a grand vision. Revolutions happen because of the passionate people on the ground – a community who fights for what they believe in and spreads the word to others.

In order to create a true math education revolution, it has to start with the people on the ground – which is all you teachers in the classroom. It cannot be the newest initiative of your curriculum director or your superintendent. It has to start with YOU.

So my final challenge to you all is to join us in this revolution. A quick Google search for EFFL will point you to hundreds of these lessons. Try these lessons in your own classrooms. Share them with others. Thank you and welcome to the #EFFLrevolution!

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