Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Quick Question (well, maybe not quick)

How does one approach fellow educators whose view on education is this:
Rather than this:
Last night, Mr. Pershan tweeted something interesting: "What's a question about teaching that you wish you knew the answer to?" This got me thinking a little bit. And then this morning I thought more. My original response was "Is it possible to get all levels of learners to see, understand, and appreciate the interconnectedness of all math topics?" I tried to think of Mr. Pershan's question from my current standpoint, knowing what I know now as opposed to what questions I might've had my first year teaching. This morning I thought of the above question. Its something that I've struggled with ever since I made the transition myself. On a regular basis, across subject areas, I run into teachers that stuff facts and notes into students' brains and expect them to just regurgitate them. To me, that's not really the point of education. Sure, there are certain pieces of information that we need to learn and remember and use exactly as we learned them, but the majority of education should be learning how to problem solve and apply what we learn to new situations. I always have students tell me they're never going to fly on a plane that is landing at a 5 degree angle at an altitude of 3000 feet, so why do they need to know how much distance they need to land? I don't really have an argument for them; they are most likely correct. However, I don't teach them how to solve this problem exactly the way its written. I teach them the trig. functions and how they relate to the right triangle, and they THINK about how it can be applied to various scenarios. I hardly ever give the same type of problem more than once because all too often students use the same steps to solve everything. I'm trying to break them of this habit. I make it very clear to my students at the beginning of the year that I will teach them how to think because currently they don't know how; they only know how to read directions. After a few weeks, they start to get it and they start learn how to apply knowledge to all kinds of situations. They think outside the box rather than look into the box for steps 1, 2, and 3. Its an amazing transformation to witness, and the growth I see from the beginning to the end of the semester is quite awesome.
Back to my original question, how do I transfer this mindset to teachers that don't share it (or how do I make teachers realize this isn't what they're doing when they think they are)? Maybe that's not my job (but when I want what is best for students, its hard to ignore these things). After all, I'm not claiming to be 'Johnny Know-It-All' on this topic. I can do it with my students mainly because I've been teaching the same course for 6 years and have been able to perfect my lessons to reflect this process. I'm sure if I taught a new course next year, it would take some time to develop lessons that develop this mindset in students. I certainly don't have all of the answers, but I feel that I'm able to identify what I consider good teaching from bad teaching (and I have more than 2 years experience). In this 'team teaching' that I'm doing with my colleague, he is showing me all kinds of stuff that I never thought about in his lessons (there are times I feel I'm learning as much as the students). I've always been open to criticism, and that's why I've been able to change my teaching style. I was lucky enough to have a fellow colleague of mine take me under his wing and help me get my students to where they need to be. Combine that with the math twittersphere and blogosphere and its been a super fun process; doing all kinds of research and applying them to my teaching has been more beneficial than parts of my college education.
Maybe that's the first step: recognizing that there needs to be a change. I'm open to it, and I know others that are too. But what about those that aren't?

Note: the first image was taken from Mr. Pershan's parent night notes (@mpershan)

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