October 03, 2012

The Most Valuable Lesson I've Learned in 10 Years of Teaching

When I began teaching I knew something was wrong with how I had been taught and how I was currently teaching. I did what I could to adjust my style, but the change was slow. I couldn't put my finger on the problem - so I couldn't really solve the problem. Each year I'd try something new... then in my 5th year of teaching I took over a math position from a friend and former colleague. She gave me some of her math materials to give me a head start. I took her materials and (with minor adjustments) just ran with them. In the process I discovered or at least was able to verbalize what had been missing for me all these years. The simple "Joy of Discovery. "

During that year; I watched kids get excited about making connections. They cheered when they began seeing patterns. My math classes in school were never like this... I wasn't using flashy multimedia, or a modern textbook, kids were simply working together, making observations and drawing conclusions. Magic.

Why are people willing to spend hours working out Sudoku puzzles? Why are kids excited to spend hours with a video game? Why do mathematicians and scientist devote their lives to research?

There is inherent joy in the act of discovery. As a species that evolved intelligence at the cost of physical strength it shouldn't surprise us that we have a built in reward system for learning and discovery.

It seems to me that modern math education is not in need of more technology or new standards. Rather as math educators we need to focus our energy on returning the joy of discovery to our math classes. Isn't that what is so good about Dan Meyer's 3 Act approach and so wrong with the Khan Academy approach?

This topic came up again as I was describing the Exeter Math program to an administrator  I found that I was using language very similar to as if I was teaching a textbook driven course - which was a bit troubling. Yet there is a key difference. While Exeter is paper based and not all the problems are amazing - it forces the joy of discovery back into the classroom. The burden to discover is on the students. It is a problem first solution second approach. The complete opposite of most (math) classrooms.

If I reflect on all the PD, all the TED talks, all the blog posts, all the books and all the long conversations over a beer or two three the most valuable lesson I have learned in 10 years of teaching has be the recognition of the value, the motivation, and the sheer joy of discovery.

1 comment:

  1. I teach mathematics at a large, suburban high school in southwest Ohio, and this year I have made the transition to Harkness. The other honors pre-calculus teacher and I spent the summer creating our own worksheets and are implementing them in our classes with very positive results. With the support of the administration (which I am fortunate enough to have), the change is possible.

    In case you are interested, I am blogging my "adventure" at harknessforthirty.blogspot.com. I would be interested in any feedback you would be willing to provide.

    Johnothon Sauer