Carl's Teaching Blog

A place to talk about teaching and learning

Category: Philosophy (Page 2 of 2)

The Creator And The Executor

I never want to get up in front of the class and be unprepared, but sometimes you won’t ever know you’re unprepared unless you get up in front of class.

Since I first started teaching I’ve always wanted to use a set of games to teach economics principles.  I have a rose-tinted vision of how the game would work, how the kids would immerse themselves in play, and debrief at the end to discuss things like comparative advantage, or the creation of money.  It was scheduled for today and I was making last second tweaks right up until class time.  Once class started the game went by in a blur, most of the time was me trying to make sure the game was written and explained clearly enough for kids to get it.  We ended up spending an entire class period on it, and we didn’t even finish.

Let’s go back to the morning, before the game started.  I had in my head how the game was supposed to work. I had a sequence of steps for the game in my head, and a powerpoint for kids to follow. There was a spreadsheet system for logging data.  I ran and borrowed a bunch of small whiteboards that kids could use to communicate, then added that into the workflow of the game. These tweaks took place all morning, right up until it was time to teach.  I was reminded of my mom getting Thanksgiving dinner together right before the guests arrived.

When it came time to get the students to play it, my brain was trying to create when it should be trying to execute.  I was approaching the game as a work in progress and not a finished piece.  So when one group came up and asked if they could rename one part of the game something else, the creator in me thought “that’s not a problem”, when the executor in me should have said “that’s a good idea, write that on your exit slip and maybe next time.”

When creating things, lessons or games, there needs to be some distance between the act of creating it, and the act of executing it.  Sometimes I can create that distance instantly.  I can stand at the board and create rote problems quickly, (like a three-step equation with  negatives, the distributive property, resulting in an integer) and immediately walk away from the board and not question whether the task is right, or could be done better.  Experience shows me the potential pitfalls, and what success looks like.  With this game, I was trying something outside of my experience and was unsure of the task itself.

It’s unsettling to be in a class where you don’t have a task you’re completely confident about.  You still look for ways to make it better, less complex, and in a lot of ways easier for the kids.  Turning that switch off and becoming the impartial judge of the tasks is an important part of making things work well with kids.  Being able to separate your self and your creative process from the task, being able to walk to the back of the class and say “That is quite a problem up there, what should we do?” is really important for the task’s success.

As kids got started on the game, there were problems.  Some were confused about the computer, others were doodling on their white board, and the name change I allowed confused two groups.   The creator in me at this point was yearning to get back to the drafting table and start making fixes to all these parts of the game.  I could have said “Alright guys, this isn’t working. Get out some paper and copy from the board” and whipped up a bunch of equations to solve.  Instead I had to turn the creator off, and let the executor make sure the game gets finished.  I was able to distance myself from whether or not the task was ideally formed, and spent the rest of the class pushing kids to understand it as it was written.  There was certainly something for the kids to understand in this game, and I focused on making that visible.

#MTBoS30 18/30

Working with kids: Sometimes you just need things laid out

Last night I didn’t post because I was tired. I woke up in the morning with a dream that became this post. 

 

So in my dreams lots of things shift, and move, and don’t really  make sense, but there is usually a central theme and emotion that ties it all together.  In the dream last night there was a central character who seemed a combination of myself, of some player on the Detroit Pistons, and Barney from How I Met Your Mother.  The central character was a teenager who was unsure about what he was going to do after graduation, and the larger implied question, what should he do with his life.

 

In the dream Barney had a 3 choices things he could do with his life.  Barney knew he liked rapping, when his friends were rapping lyrics into their phones and making songs out of it he always thought he could get into it with them because he knew he could be good at it.  He never did.  Also, Barney was also talented in debate.  He had a lot of experience working with the debate coach and the debate team and had an impressive string of victories this year.  Lastly, Barney knew he was good at volleyball.  He had a natural aptitude for the sport because he was tall and athletic.  He played on the school team, and playing volley ball was a big part of his identity at school, but he was not nationally ranked or recruited. (Also, why am I dreaming about volleyball? Why am I not dreaming about Barney’s academics?  I don’t know either…)

 

Barney was hanging out with his friends one day and he gets a call from an uncle who talks him through all of the opportunities he faces and Barney hangs up the phone knowing exactly what his next step is.  This uncle didn’t demand that he choose one thing, or even tell him what he would do.

 

They both walked through each of the situations together and whenever there was some possible decision the Uncle laid out what Barney could expect.   The Uncle challenged Barney about considering being a rap artist when he hasn’t been willing to do the work for that.  When there wasn’t enough information the Uncle would gather it, he calling colleges and asking about their debate team and their volleyball program.  In the end it was clear that taking the opening on the college debate team was the best choice, as he put in the most effort towards that success, and future success seemed very realistic.

 

In the end what Barney needed was not an answer for what he should he do with his life, but someone who could take all the different options that he has in front of him and lay them out on a platter.  Once Barney could see the possibilities for his next step, it made the choice easier.  It avoided the larger question of what should he do with his life, but since that is a question that evolves over time for everyone, it may not be the best thing to expect a teenager to do before choosing something like what College to attend or what major to have.  What might be good is to do what helped Barney.  Look at areas where they have put in effort, avoid areas where they haven’t put in effort, and do the research to see what opportunities are actually available.  Then have a conversation where you put it all on a platter, where you lay out all the reasonable outcomes and let the kid think about what choice makes the most sense

 

16/30 #MTBoS

Student Relationships: It’s How You Say It

Math teachers are assumed to be unable to form relationships with kids.  Societal representations of teachers portray someone who tells corny jokes, plays board games in their free time or is the geekiest of computer geeks (and in my case all three!).  Whether or not you fit typical math teacher stereotypes, it is critical to have strong relationships with students in your role as a math teacher.

This may go without saying, but having strong relationships are important for learning math, or anything.  Kids are people, and all people exist in a social context alongside other people.  Why ignore the reality of the classroom?  Why not use relationships to win students over?  I have learned a few tricks in my first few years of teaching and I hope to archive them here for my reference, and maybe someone else can make use of them as well.

It’s not always what you say, it’s often how you say it

So your relationship to students is really made up of all the little interactions you have with the students, most of which are focused on getting the students to complete a task.  As you explain the steps of the task individually or clarify a point made in front of class, really think about the way in which you are saying it.  In a situation where you have to deliver the same words over and over for multiple classes, sometimes altering the tone of your message is the only way to resonate with the varied types of learners you have in your classroom.

Read More

Where I Tell An Embarrassing Story And Explain The Point Of This Blog

When I first decided to be a teacher it was because I was in trouble.  By my senior year of high school I had been in trouble enough times that I was bored by receiving long-winded speeches, getting sent to the hallway, and staying late for detention. After talking excessively during my Econ class I figured I would try something different.  When my teacher talked to me after class I negotiated to swap the detention for what I thought would be an easier punishment.  I offered to teach his class for a day.

If I taught his class for a day I would learn what teaching is all about, and I had been thinking about education from the myriad list of potential college majors.  His facial expression was a mixture predictable skepticism and confusion, so I pushed my argument further. The details of the conversation escapes me, but I know I argued that understanding the difficulties that teacher face would stop me from talking to my friends in class and make me not want to interfere any lesson ever again.  Before I got too far into it, Mr. Faricy agreed to the deal, with a little more enthusiasm than I thought was appropriate.  His knowing grin, of course, was foreshadowing the awful, awful lesson that transpired when I taught his intro to economics class next week.

Read More

Page 2 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén