Analysing Three Methods / by Tyler Wood

Roller Coaster Physics (Project Based Learning)

In Roller Coaster Physics in Ms. Migdol’s 5th grade science class, the students are expected to build a roller coaster that can send a marble on a fun, enjoyable, safe ride to the bottom. The academic expectations are that they will understand potential energy and kinetic energy and how they work. They will also understand Newton’s three laws of motion. Along with the physics element to the project, students will also be expected to communicate ideas with a group and to problem solve and come to a consensus within the group. They will also be using real-world accounting because they will be buying materials within their assigned budget which helps create a situation where problem solving skills are at a premium.

The students’ behavior expectations are to work together and use designated roles to accomplish their mission. Students are expected to participate in the group work and even organize their project with students in another class (Mace, 2015).

The norms and procedures used to help with this project are to use “Chime in” where one student speaks on behalf of their team and they take turns talking about their previous successes and failures and participating in problem solving for other teams collaboratively. According to the lesson plan, there is also a tardy rule, where students will lose a percentage of their daily score based on how much of the class they missed, a missed work rule, where students must coordinate with their team if they are absent to make up for lost time, and an electronic device rules, where students are not allowed to use devices unless they have been approved by the teacher. Finally, the students must sign out to use the restroom and if they overuse this privilege they may lose it or be sent to the nurse’s office because they may have a bladder infection (Mace, 2015).

This was a great way to engage the students in a project that had a very high level of expectation by splitting the responsibility within a team and spacing out the work over several days. The organization was great because the students went through each step together buing guided by the teacher. Building a roller coaster on their own might feel very daunting, but guiding the students through each stage of development really helped the students build on the ideas and prepare for the next step.Using the budget was a great way of adding some real-world math into a project without students focusing on that. It became a means to an end and they had an authentic situation to apply their knowledge.

The students seemed to be very engaged and following direction and focused on the task at hand. One of the best strategies for classroom management is for the students to be busy doing something, and a project that can last several days allows for bell to bell applied learning of the objectives of the project. The teacher held the students accountable for their ideas and vocabulary usage while discussing the ideas. She made sure that the labeling of the sketches used proper terminology, for example.

Chinese Math

In Chinese math class with Ms. Chen's 3rd grade class, the students are learning elementary math in the second language of Chinese based on a common traditional way of learning math in China that dates back 2,200 years - they memorize based on rhymes. The academic expectations are to be able to understand math in Chinese. Not to just get the right answer, but to understand the logic of the numbers and how they interact with each other (Wei, 2014).

The behavior expectations are clear, to sit and repeat after the teacher until asked a question. They are then able to answer the question. In China, students are expected to perform their equations on the board in front of the class (Wei, 2014).

The norms and procedures in the class are limited to repeating and having a few clapping or gesturing motions for attention. Students respond to gestures on when to be quiet and when to repeat.

I have no experience in Chinese math, so it is hard to really gauge how well the students were understanding the concepts. There is plenty of data showing how well urban areas of China do with math skills, but I am hesitant to jump on the bandwagon, simply because I have had plenty of experience using memorization techniques with poor results (Wei, 2014). It is true that some students will learn this way very well, but it is hard to say they will be able to apply it to everyday uses. Though, teachers in Chinese urban areas do try and bring in real-world examples, it is still a limited style of learning that could be failing many students who might struggle with this method (Wei, 2014).

The students in Ms. Chen’s class are not Chinese and might have more trouble following along with a Chinese traditional method. Having said that, they seemed to be engaged and repeating very rapidly and enjoying themselves. This style offers very little in the way of differentiation and could lead to students being left behind. The expectations are high based on a particular standard, memorization (which can be hard for some), but not on any other skill that I could see in the video. Ms. Chen could be using other methods and strategies in other classes, but there was very little critical thinking skills that I could see that were different than a traditional American math class.

Whole Brain Teaching

In Ms. Mackens’ 9th grade class, she is using the whole brain teaching method. This method uses repeating and mirroring to activate different parts of the brain of each student. It is meant to focus attention on important information and make different neural connections to strengthen the knowledge. In the class, the teacher says “Class” and the students respond with “yes” to focus attention and make sure they are listening.

The academic expectations of this method are focused mostly on behavior and repetition, rather than content. That would be a separate thing for each lesson or class. I do not think the expectations for the students are high because this method, at least in the class video, did not show any useful application of the repeated phrases. The expectations are that each student remembers, and can apply, each concept learned in the class. 

The behavior expectations are the main attraction of this method. Students are expected to repeat and mirror each time the teacher calls for it. In this way, the behavior expectations are very high. Nearly boot camp level, high. Students need to repeat the same phrases over and over in class, clap, and mirror gestures throughout the class.

The norms and procedures that support high expectations are the “teach” moments when student are expected to explain the concept they just learned to their partner. The ritual repetition and attention words are meant to be norms as well, though it is not explained how to deal with students who do not repeat or mirror in the video.

I can see where the interest in this system comes from on the teacher’s side of things, but I am very skeptical of this method’s application when talking about actual transferable learning, especially with students in high performing schools. It appears to be a method that can be effective with low-performing students and might even be beneficial for ESL/ELL students because of the constant repetition for pronunciation and memorization of vocabulary (PBS, 2015). However, I am skeptical of the system generally because the claims the system makes regarding the brain are dubious or unverified, as regards to this method's connection to learning. The mirroring might help with physical movement and connection to the brain, but unless each student is going to repeat those motions whenever they are trying to remember something from class, I do not see how it applies outside of the class. It seems like a money making endeavor because of the heavy focus of the website being to sell books or sign teachers up for conferences, though there is some free content as well (Biffle, n.d.). If I want to add more physical response to engage students, I should because it is not a bad idea, but I do not think that I need to follow the rules of this system to get the results I am looking for, or to tap into the connection to the brain that kinetic movement has. Routines can become stale. Making sure routines like turning in homework or sitting down at the bell are reasonable for the whole year, but making students repeat the same rules over and over causes it to be less interesting and takes time away from learning new things. According to Daphne Shohany, a neuroscientist, the brain learns from surprise and interest more than anything else. This system has had decent results, but it might be from latent reasons like making the class environment fun and active and not because of the special rules of the system itself, like 'Brainies' or Mirroring (PBS, 2015). 

Creating High Expectations in My Class

As Bruce Lee said “Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own.” From my experience, there is very rarely a system that works all the time for all people for anything forever. Each one of these methods has elements I can use and elements that might not work for me or my students. 

My students are second and fourth grade English Language Learners in Seoul, South Korea.  

I have been using project based learning for awhile now and it is very good at offering authentic, real-world application of content and ideas that students are learning in class. The best way to offer high expectations is to apply it and have authentic assessment and feedback results that come from that. This not only helps the teacher understand how well a student is internalizing a concept and how well they can apply it to a different situation, but it offers the student a chance to self-assess and learn how to learn. They can see themselves succeed with high expectations and help themselves motivate themselves to apply that learning later because they already know they can do it.

I do not teach math, so repeating times tables will not help my students in our ESL classroom, but what I can do is offer more modelling of ideas and check ins for understanding. According to the typical Chinese system, however, I can use their use of scaffolding to help build higher and higher expectations by offering repeated wins on the way to mastery. According to the article, Chinese teachers start with easier problems and then expect students to do harder and harder ones using the same method they just learned. This kind of modelling would work well in an ESL classroom with ideas like grammar or syntax where students can start with a simple sentence using a new grammar point, then using the same grammar point in more and more complex sentences. 

Although I was critical of the Whole Brain Teaching method, I do believe they tap into a few very useful strategies for building high expectations. First, using movement to help learning can help build confidence in material and engage students in the class. Second, making the classroom fun can help reduce stress on students, especially when those students have high expectations. Finally, the repetition can be useful in an ESL class in Seoul because my students do not have a lot of time with English speakers to listen to pronunciation and taking advantage of that time by repeating can be useful in helping students speak more naturally and confidently. 

In the past I have disregarded others who have told me that certain students could not do something or accomplish something and found that offering higher expectations lifts the students up to the level you set for them. However, this only works when you are offering them guidance on how to succeed. In much the same way as classroom management starts on day one with what expectations you have for behavior in class, academic expectations start right from the beginning as well. Students will do as much work as you let them get away with. If you allow students to turn in answers with just a word instead of a sentence, now you have lowered the expectations from a sentence to a one word answer. Holding your students to the expectations you set and making sure they understand those expectations are key in making sure they are successful in meeting those expectations. I like to make sure my expectations are spelled out easily for the students so they know exactly what I expect. I bring the students into the process for building expectations and let them decide what the expectations can be at times. They usually surprise me and set high expectations for themselves, which makes them much more motivated to achieve them as well. 

Students need to be motivated to maintain success. I also want to use the mastery method of learning to make sure they are prepared for the next skill, but make sure learning by failing is a part of the classroom. I use gamification to achieve these ends. Click the button below to learn more. 



Biffle, C. (n.d.) Whole Brain Teaching. Retrieved from

Mace, R. (2015). Roller Coaster Lab. Retreived from

PBS NewsHour. (2015). Teachers tap into brain science to boost learning. Retrieved from

Wei, K. (2014). Explainer: what makes Chinese maths lessons so good? The Conversation. Retreived from