Saturday, October 12, 2013

The germ of an idea...

Full disclosure: I read a lot. Sometimes novels, sometimes magazines, sometimes YA, sometimes SciFi,  sometimes philosophy, sometimes books about teaching/education, sometimes books about math, sometimes blogs, sometimes Twitter... pretty much anything (except historical fiction... gotta draw the line somewhere, right?) The point is that when I wonder about something, my default position is to do some reading and then reflect. This post is mostly reflecting about teaching math as it pertains to a specific pedagogy.

I've been assessing my own teaching lately and been pretty down about it. I lament the fact that I can't seem to get my 9th grade students to engage with Algebra 1 beyond a "how-to" level. I know it's a process and I know that it'll get better if I plug away at it... but it seems so far away.

There has been some success: I just have to remind myself about a student from last year who told me that the only reason that she passed the state test was because when she got to a question that she didn't know how to do, she thought to herself, "What would Mr Mango do?". It was very nice of her to say, but of course, I don't think I deserve that much credit.

I digress: I've decided that I need to re-root myself. I'm going to re-read Bob & Ellen Kaplan's book, "Out of the Labyrinth".  (Christopher Rice, I love you, but you're going to have wait a few weeks. I'll get to you.) I've been to a few of their training sessions and I've totally drunk the Kool-Aid on Math Circle techniques. But. What Am I Doing Wrong?

I think it's that I'm not starting the lesson (planning or instruction) with a question. Bob and Ellen always start their Math Circle sessions with a question; a place from which inquiry can venture forth. I've known for some time, but maybe haven't verbalized the fact that all of the crap stuff that we teach kids in HS math is the answer to some question. The teacher's job should be to ask the questions and help kids see where the answers come from... not to tell them the answers and imply that the questions are unimportant. No wonder math is boring for most kids/people. We don't ask enough questions.

Why do kids always ask, "Why do I need this?" or "Who made this up?" or "What is this good for?"? Well, not entirely absent from a lot of teaching is the inquiry that precedes the mathematical technique. I'm not asserting that no one will ever ask again "When am I ever going to use this?" but starting with a question might help alleviate some of that. Resolution: I will incite as many lessons as possible with a question.

So, I'm embarking on "Out of the Labyrinth" again... for the 4th or 5th time. New insights this time? Pretty sure that a given.

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