Tuesday, April 16, 2013

For Real, Though. What's The Deal?

     I realize that this post is a little late, and Mrs. Fawn Nguyen has already beaten me to the punch, but I'll go for it anyway.
     Recently, Mr. Dan Meyer posted about an interview with Sal Khan in which this question was posted: 'What makes sports practice satisfying and how is sports practice different from math practice?' When questions like this are posed, my first instinct is to go to the source - the students. Since they are the ones making the decision, it would make sense that they could give us a straight answer right? I decided to put this to the test and ask some of my students. Below are some of the responses.

"I think kids are more up for working on sports rather than school because kids can actually see a physical change in their lives. more than just seeing a math problem and it being easier. plus you sometimes control how much more change you can see when its in sports."

"Alright, so this entire block I have been processing the question imposed with some deep thought. Yes, I do indeed have a brain. Shocker, right?! I think the answer that most teens would say is that you do what you are interested in. My personality is a good example! I don't enjoy participating in an activity or putting a great amount of effort into something that doesn't interest me. (It doesn't have to benefit myself for me to do it though. I ain't about that selfish life ;p) SO! Bringing this back to the question, sports practice is satisfying due to the fact that the student selected to do it, and it is normally a passion of the kid."

"Its definately an interesting article. The content is all correct unfortunately and I honestly don't know why I see it like that myself. My only theory on the issue is that it's easier to physically exert yourself than mentally exert yourself. Or in other words you would rather run 3 miles than solve a basic algebraic equation. There are 2 kinds of people, the ones who are scholars and the ones who are athletes, and sometimes there is a good mix. But, do you have a passion for Math or do you have a passion for Baseball? Would you rather get your Ph.d in formulas and theorems or would you rather get drafted into the Major Leagues? It comes down to passion, does that make any sense? It's either your passion or your just a whiner. XD Really interesting Mr. Brandt thanks for the read!"

     And one more...

"In regards to your inquiry, I am taking my quite valuable time to respond. In all due respect, my first thought was that most math taught is not applicable in the everyday life and thus a waste of time. However, upon pondering your attached article, I realized that my previous cognition was not valid. Math is an essential quality of our lives. We use it with out even giving it a second speculation. Though I have stated one of my opinions, I, in turn, have not addressed your main question.
Sports practice and math class differ in that one is an extracurricular activity while the other is an intellectually involved course. The descriptions above only graze the surface of the in depth reasoning to sports practice being more enjoyable than a math class. Sports, are a freedom that you choose to participate in that differs from math which you are required to partake in. With that statement, it is my belief that many students as well as me, feel that because math is mandatory we are derogatory towards it. We didn't sign up for it so why would we put forth an effort.
In another context, to me sports practices are more satisfying due to the belief that participants get more out of it. On the other hand, their is no way to measure these two oppositions to accurately compare them thus rendering my above statement vulnerable to critique. Sports are a great activity in which to get in shape, become a team worker, and learn beneficial life lessons. However, math provides us with knowledge and the ability to use that intelligence to succeed in the real world. Whom is to say that one is better than the other? While students tend to lean towards sports they must also realize the importance of mathematics.
So, to wrap up, students would rather participate in sports because they think they get more out of it and it is "fun". Were as math is a pointless burden to them"

      So, ideas - instant reward, interest, passion. Now I did not send this to all of my students, so this isn't exactly a good sample. I chose students that I have this year that are dedicated athletes and in good academic standing and that I thought would take this seriously. I sent it out to about fifteen different kids, but only received back four responses, so there is that too.
    To be honest, this is about what I expected to hear back. Everyone gravitates towards their passion and interests. Even if they don't have that part of their life figured out, they will figure it out by moving towards what they find fascinating. Also, as we know, students are all about their immediate satisfaction. Heck, I'm the same way. I've gotten better with age, but it is still difficult for me to stay motivated on something when the only goal is long-term; even in those cases I try to get it done quickly so I can see the end result.
     I was surprised, however, to see the slight confusion in their responses. Even the students themselves are not 100% sure as to why they gravitate to sports instead of school. Perhaps it is something that they haven't really thought about themselves but it just kind of happens. I'm sure if I got all responses back there would be more reasons based on the students' personal connections as well as some reinforcement of the above.
     In the last response, I found the phrase "...because math is mandatory we are derogatory towards it" interesting. Is this a reflection on how education is organized? Rather than educators seeking students' interests and teaching the content through those avenues, we are teaching content because of state tests. We are assigning grades based on 'student performance' instead of assessing them based on true mastery, which causes them to care solely about the grade and not about the content. If students had the option of taking various math courses based on where they saw themselves in the future, would the enjoyment factor go up? If art students took geometry because it's applicable but not algebra 2, would we see an increase in interest in math? Or is there still an overarching feeling that math is lame, difficult, and useless that will never go away?
     I could continue to analyze these responses, but I am curious what everyone else thinks. Leave some comments, provide some insight. If I get any more responses, I will post them.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Seeing Things Differently

I hang out with English teachers too much; I find myself searching for meaning in everyday events when before I just took them at face value.

Yesterday I was speaking to a colleague about how teaching is changing, not with technology, but with more exploring and student directed discussions. When I read about successful lessons/teachers, they are always ones that give students freedom and ownership, very student-centered. These lessons show how the math works, where it comes from, how it's connected to other areas, and what cool things can be done with it.

I went to school where the model was teach, examples, practice. Because of this, I grew up being a terrible independent thinker and problem solver; I had to teach myself these qualities in college. I graduated high school being able to only complete problems that I've seen carbon copy examples of. I do not wish this experience for any of my students, and I believe many good teachers agree.

I had to learn (and still am, everyday) how to organize lessons focused on my students on my own. My undergrad work too was more teacher-centered than I would've liked, as was my student teaching, and there was never any criticism for it. It makes me wonder how colleges are training future teachers. How they changed with current, effective practices or are they still training in the same old fashioned way?

Our conversation continued with this and we ended it being positive about the future of teaching practices and slightly negative about some current practices. I left to go make some copies and in the machine I found a copy of the poem 'When I Heard The Learn'd Astronomer.' I've heard this before but never thought about it in depth. However, after the conversation I just participated in, I stopped and reflected. This poem describes what's currently going on in math education. We've got some really knowledgeable teachers that are showing facts and step-by-step processes, but they are not effective because they are not engaging their students. There are no connections, nothing interesting for non-mathematicians to grab on to, just straight facts. Math has a stereotype of being challenging, boring, and just for nerds, and that's really not true at all. Just like any subject it can be accessible to all students as long as it's presented in the right way.

I often read through my twitter feed and various blogs and wonder what it would be like to teach in a school with everyone I follow. I'm constantly reading so many great ideas from teachers that get it and are constantly striving for perfection and challenging themselves. I wonder how successful a math department of this caliber could be. I would love to participate in professional development opportunities with them to engage in conversations that are longer than 140 characters. To work with teachers that share this common goal, that is the dream. When everyone's heart is truly at the right place and they are doing what is best for their students, mastery happens, and with that independent interest grows. And that is where the learning occurs.

When I heard the learn'd astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.

- Walt Whitman
Leaves of Grass, 1900
emphasis mine