As a member of the Cambridge Running Club, I periodically host Saturday long runs from my place. Recently, a runner who hosted put out a call for tips for making better long run maps after he experienced the frustrations of translating MapMyRun into usable maps. That inspired me to write about how teaching translates to long run hosting.
Runners (students) don’t necessarily need the flashiest long runs (lessons) to do well. I used to think that my long run routes had to go past the prettiest scenery, but this required more water stops and time-consuming mapping. After helping me host my first long run that went all over the City of Boston, my fiance commented that CRCers didn’t need an exciting route; the act of training with friends was the most important part. I took that to heart for my next one, picking an out-and-back on the Minuteman Trail that was familiar to CRC and offered mileage up to 20 miles. Fewer turns makes it much easier for a runner to focus on his/her running rather than worry about getting lost.
Similarly, I used to think that I needed a Dan Meyer-style lesson every day for my math classes and spent more time googling exciting activities than I did trying to set my objective for the day and design activities that were easy to implement while allowing me to assess whether students were learning. I used to think that all worksheets were boring and that I needed to have PowerPoint presentations every day. However, I now realize that investing my effort into well-designed problems (rather than fancy PowerPoint animations) would pay huge dividends even if they were presented on paper or on the board.
Less is more. I used to make multiple maps, often ending up with 3 or 4 different ones for the various mileage requested by runners. As a teacher, I used to attempt differentiation of instruction by making three different versions of a lesson, but that is not sustainable. Now I look for opportunities within the lesson for advanced students to take on challenges or help their peers as well as opportunities for having struggling students focus on the fundamentals. I learned that a class isn’t about “getting through” a certain number of problems–it’s about time on task.
Similarly, I now make one two-sided map that all runners can take. However, the simple map requires much more prep work. I figure out the minimum, motst common (aka “what’s the mileage prescribed by our coach for Boston or the club’s fall marathon”), and maximum mileage and then figure out a route that allows for differentiation from the most common that minimizes the number of required water stops and the distance required by the water stop dropper to travel. For example, with my most recent long run, I compiled the responses and found that the majority of runners were running 12-16 miles with a few running 8 miles and a few running 18-20 miles. Knowing this also helped my fiance figure out when to pick up water stops and how much to place at each stop. … which leads me to: ask for help. Having a water stop helper makes hosting infinitely easier in the way that talking through your lesson with someone to make sure it makes sense can save you tons of time and classroom management frustration.
Put yourself in your runner’s (student’s) shoes. As someone who gets lost easily, I design maps that tell runners where to go in the way that I want to be told how to go. I anticipate the trickiest parts of the route, e.g., ones with lots of turns or that require maneuvering, then create zoomed-in pictures of those parts so that I can give detailed directions for them. I include left- and right-hand turn cues such as “L Pine St” so that runners can anticipate where to turn rather than deciphering where a street might be on the map. I also indicate intersections where water will be placed. “Water at Mile 4” might not help if a runner doesn’t have a Garmin or if it’s at Mile 3.8 or 4.2, but “at the corner of Pine St and Elm St behind the mailbox” does. I also include my address and phone number in case runners get stranded and need to call to be picked up.
I like my classroom handouts to be so clear that the student won’t second guess themselves and can follow directions without me having to clarify, and I like my long run maps to do the same for my fellow CRCers. Check out the differenceS between a 2009 long run, a 2010 long run, and a 2013 long run below.
This is the front of an 8.5 mile route.
This is the back of the route map. There is a mistake in directions (I did not proofread), and there are way too many turns. The two-sidedness also makes the runner constantly flip back and forth to figure out where to go.
This is a little better. It incorporates three routes and directions into the same side of one map, but the map itself is so small it’s almost useless. The URL for the route doesn’t need to be there, the water stops aren’t described or marked in context. And this will only be meaningful to Boston-area runners: I put a water stop at the top of one of the steepest hills in the area. Many runners probably skipped it out of frustration!
Now my question is…did the long run hosting help me become a better teacher, or vice-versa?
Spotted on Capitol Hill Style. I love this message. It helps me remember that spending more time on lesson plans doesn’t necessarily mean they will turn out better, and that I’ll be happier and feel more prepared if I come into the workday with enough sleep and a positive attitude.
Today after our 8:20 Pure Barre class, Jess and I stayed after to talk to Lauren, the owner, about how to tweak our form so that we could get the maximum effect from the exercises. She went through some common mistakes that people make in tricep work, thigh sprints, round back, flat back, and abs, then explained how the changes in form will help. For example, in triceps kickbacks, the cue is to try to get the weights behind your back so that you cannot see them in the mirror. However, when people do this, their arms often bend a bit instead of remaining straight. Keeping the arms straight activates two parts of the triceps and creates more of a burn. Lauren watched me and Jess do some of the moves and pinpointed where we could make corrections. She also took time to answer our questions about specific moves (e.g., what we should do about hip tightness preventing us from lifting our left knees in pretzel). Though our conversation was less than ten minutes, I think it will pay off in terms of how much more effective class will be!
The classroom teacher takeway: Lauren’s willingness to help students after class, transparency about the design of the class, and ability to make accurate corrections.
I always encourage my students to come see me for extra help if they need it, but I still would like more to come in to do so. The ones who do have seen big improvements in their quiz & test scores. I’ve been able to look at their work and take more time to give feedback and help them figure out how to correct where they are going wrong. This can be hard to do in a 53-minute class when many students are requesting help on a new concept. Similarly, Lauren has mentioned that it is difficult to make corrections to students for exercises that last only 60 seconds. The students don’t have an opportunity to practice using the feedback until the next class, and they might not fully understand what the cue means.
A few days ago, I had a student come in for extra help because he had fallen way behind in class. When I gave him a set of problems (with answers) to do, he said “okay, I’ll do them at home.” I said “no, just stay and work through them for 10 minutes.” Another student wandered in during this time to stay hello. She often stays after to ask for help and get her homework done before going home. The struggling student commented that he was having trouble, and she walked over to him to look at his work.
This turned out way better than if I had just corrected his mistakes in setting up the cosine rule problem. The girl stayed to watch him and offer feedback as he tried the next three in the sequence, and after he got them right, he said to her “what do you want to be when you grow up? you should be a math teacher.” She’s a future Lauren in the making!
A wise soul once told me to keep my eye on the small victories in teaching–those “smile file” moments that warm your heart and solidify that “yes, *this* is why I’m a teacher” feeling. In spite of the repeated 5:30 a.m. call of the iPhone Harp alarm, the frustrations of lessons gone awry, and the gallons of iced coffee consumed, these small victories keep me going.
In October 2009, my colleagues invited me to come to Franklin Park for the JQUS cross-country team’s last practice of the season. As a second-year teacher, I hadn’t yet considered taking on any extracurricular activities beyond the scope of my calculus, pre-calculus, ESL, and advisory classes, but I still kept up my running as a stress reliever for all my grading and lesson planning. At the time, the team was comprised of 9th-11th grade boys (the lone girl had quit by the time October rolled around), so I paired up with a self-identified “slow” one to run the Franklin Park course before the team gathered for a pizza party at a coach’s house nearby. I immediately loved being a part of the energetic environment and a shared love of running with fellow teachers and students. I didn’t realize then that I’d caught the coaching bug and would continue coaching to this day. I also didn’t realize a few of the gawky 9th graders there that day would become the core of the JQUS Running Club over the next few years.
Two of the coaches left JQUS the next year, and the remaining coach asked me to join the team. We changed the focus from trying to get other schools to let us join their cross-country dual meets to asking our school to fund a few local road races for our students. We applied for a grant from Jordan Fundamentals and received $5000 for race registrations, shirts, and equipment. More and more students began to join, including classmates of those first 9th graders. We signed them up for races such as the Mayor’s Cup 5K, the Superhero 5K, the Battle of Bunker Hill 8K, and the BAA 10K. Though many students dropped out of the Running Club, a dedicated group flourished. They ran together in rain and heat, pushing each other through hill repeats and on longer river runs. One of those students started in fall 2010, and he went from 10 minute miles to earning age group prizes in local 5Ks. Looking back, I should have predicted his success based on his tireless work ethic in my math class, with the IB Diploma Programme, and his other extracurricular activities.
This student became the class of 2012 valedictorian and ended up going to Boston College–a lofty achievement accomplished by very few students before him. Before he graduated, he mentioned that he’d like to run the Boston Marathon someday.
That someday is now.
His fundraising page for the Boston College Campus School popped up in my news feed today. I’ve seen many of these fundraising pages from Cambridge Running Club teammates and runner friends from Virginia–lots of whom have years of running experience and multitudes of races under their belts. It’s so amazing to see this student, who ran his first 5K a little over two years ago, ready to take on the daunting challenge of this historic course on his way to the “right on Hereford, left on Boylston” turn to the finish.
I can’t wait to give him a high-five as he runs past mile 24 on Marathon Monday.