I am bad at Math. A lot of people will make this confession wholeheartedly, but I would bet that few of those people have ever had to TEACH Math to people. I took on such a challenge and found two things:
1) Teaching Math is like teaching anything else: be clear about what the learner must accomplish, demonstrate it, get the learner to do it, assess, repeat.
2) I liked it a lot.
The second thing is more important for me than the first. It’s important because I was scared to do it. When I did it, though, I found myself really reaching back into my troubled Math past (the teary-eyed nights of struggling through long division) and my toolbox of real-world situations that I swore would NEVER involve math of any sort (just order too few pizzas one day if you want to see what I mean).
A few things have happened recently that have made me see that my little epiphanies are old news for the seasoned Math pros. These things have also shown me that there is something going on in Math education that the rest of us (yes…even in the humanities) should be paying attention to.
I recently had a great talk with a new, passionate Math teacher who just can’t wait to get kids pumped about polynomials. Now, new teachers like Tara (on Twitter at @tleipert ) often are the manifestations of both piss and/or vinegar, but what was great was about the conversation was that I could see her evaluating ways to take Math out of the textbook and into the real world.
Next, as is my tendency, I was looking for an interesting TED video to show to my homeroom class and I stumbled upon this talk by famous Math teacher Dan Meyer (you KNOW you are special when you are a famous Math teacher). You can see the video for yourself here, but the main thrust is that Math classes and textbooks take STUDENTS out of the equation by giving them all the information they need to solve problems. He espouses a type of Math study that asks simple questions as a starting point for a conversation about how to solve them.
Finally, I came across Shawn Cornally’s blog about being on a constant quest to be a better teacher. The things he tries in his classroom are really out of the box thinking for getting his youth excited about exponents. He awards game-like experience points for successes in his classes. He then allows the students the opportunity to “win some back” when they make mistakes. Take a look at this excerpt from his blog about how he allows students to re-try concepts they missed on before:Cherub: “Mr. Cor nally, I was look ing at my grades, and I see that I don’t really under stand how to draw the graph of a function’s deriv a tive, I have a 5/10.” Cor nally: “Did you review the con cept with your notes, the book, and or try some by yourself?” Cherub: “Yes, I tried a few from the book, and I think I get it now. Can I show you?” Cor nally: “Sure.” The stu dent draws a func tion (sim ple parabola) and then draw its deriv a tive fairly accurately. Cherub: “Is this correct?” Cor nally: “Yes, but I need you to show me with a func tion that may not have already been in your head.” Cor nally draws com pli cated func tion. Stu dent draws deriv a tive fairly well. “Ok, you didn’t quite get this part … but you’ve def i nitely shown improve ment on some of the basic ideas behind this stan dard, I will change your score to a 7.5/10, a ‘C.’” Cherub: “OK, thanks. I’ll be in tomor row morn ing to try again.” This. Actu ally. Happened.
(Source Cornally’s Blog, Think Thank Thunk)
The point of all of this is not that I want to go teach Math. I would still generally suck at it. The point is that the approach of creating relevant, accessible material in an area that has historically been such a huge block for people should be an inspiration to us all. In short, if Math can do it, why aren’t we all striving to make our classrooms THIS exciting?