This past week, two delegates from Phillips Exeter Academy came to visit our school. Tom Seidenberg, of the Mathematics Department, has made this trip for the past three years. Tom was an educator at Phillips Exeter Academy for 29 years and has recently retired. Prior to his tenure at Exeter, he taught for 15 years in Washington state public schools. During his time at Exeter, he helped develop, teach, and revise the Harkness-aligned curriculum that Exeter still uses today. He earned the title of the Bates-Russell Distinguished Faculty Professor in 2010 for his work in using technology in the classroom. Additionally, he chaired the Anja S. Greer Conference on Mathematics and Technology for 23 years. He has also traveled nationally and internationally as a presenter in teaching workshops.
Last year I got the chance to meet Tom on his visit and was introduced to the Harkness Method. Because I was so excited about this curriculum through his visit, I decided to implement the curriculum in my classes for the coming school year. It has been a pleasure to come to class this semester and last where there is so much positive student engagement and accountability. Simply because of the way class is scheduled, students are encouraged to come prepared and ready to learn from each other and perhaps even impress their peers!
The Harkness Method is a purely student-focused teaching style that has its origins at Exeter. In the math classroom, students work on word problems for homework and come to class ready to present. Classroom time is devoted to students presenting, discussing, and debating their work. A consensus is reached by the students with hopefully little teacher interference.
This year, Tom’s visit was of great advantage to my teaching practice as well as my students’ learning. Although the students were a bit nervous at having a visitor in the room, they rose to the occasion and put their best work forward. Tom was able to add to the classroom discussion as well as able to give me some constructive feedback. I am even more excited to see how his advice will change the way I do class next semester!