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


  1. "...wonder what it would be like to teach in a school with everyone I follow." Mind blown, Patrick.

    "I would love to participate in professional development opportunities with them..." Dear Patrick, have you seen the memo? This is called Twitter Math Camp in July, at Drexel University.

    I'm going!! Will you be there?