Today’s class began with a plan to break up the monotony, and I left feeling the need to take even more drastic action for the monotony. The day before I was talking with a special ed teacher who was the advisor of one of my students. “He needs thing to be EXCITING.” she said “He’s a skateboarder. If he’s not in your class it’s because he’s out around the building skateboarding. Your classes have to compete with skateboarding.” I immediately thought of this as a challenge. How do you make math class as interesting as skateboarding?

Initially I thought about the process skateboarders take to get better. Skateboarding offers lots of real-time feedback to help you learn how to master a new trick. Math offers similar real-time feedback if the students learn to check their own work and are given opportunities to be independent. With confidence and effort they can follow the sort of instantaneous feedback of their own thinking while working towards solving a problem. In a lot of ways the work one does to master a skateboard trick is similar to the work one does to learn math.

So I was about 3/4 through that explanation when my co-worker stopped me and said “Also, you could have the kids moving around and doing cool stuff.” To which I replied “Well… yeah… Of course that too.”

It was one of the few times a conversation in teaching has left me both dumbfounded and also spinning with ideas. Large scale experiments and physical explorations is something I haven’t done in my class, but is something that has been done in her class (her students build and fly a hot air balloons…on the first or second day of class). It made me think about doing more modeling and less pen and paper work. Maybe the spaghetti bridge to talk about linear modelling, maybe a catapult to talk about quadratic modelling, maybe something with building skateboard ramps? Who knows, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!!

Naturally, the lesson I had planned felt as exciting as a bowl of bran flakes in comparison. OK not entirely, we did the connecting representations activity that I remember from TMC-NYC. Some notes for people doing that. It’s good to have the representations on chart paper so you can have the prompts on the screen. I intended to have the images at the bottom of this google doc as the representations to connect. I noticed that the sort of silence and the lack of writing really helped some kids make connections. One pair of students only on their second day in the class began the activity saying “I don’t get this” but were able to create their own.

The rest of the class was spent working on some activities that I used to think were the Cat’s pajamas but now they just seem boring. At least that’s how the kids experienced it. Maybe the conversation made me less exciting to teach this stuff, or maybe it’s time for something new. Either way I have four days of weekend to think of something more exciting and I hope to spend at least one day doing just that.