Monday, November 10, 2008

Upside-Down Math Education

The conference was GREAT! (As well as getting fired up again for teaching, which I find conferences always do for me, and as well as learning about math and education, I played roulette for the first time. I did so because a student of mine left class Wednesday saying, "Bet on black." Had I placed only one bet I would have been fine!)

Anyway, a while back I "promised" to post reasons to learn math. While I did write this up for my students I found it too long to post here. Now, however, I have a whole different vision.

At one session Edward Burger (pictured above) turned everything upside-down for me with regard to this question in a very exciting way that makes a lot of sense. He asked:
WHAT WILL YOUR STUDENTS REMEMBER FROM YOUR CLASS IN 10 YEARS; WHAT WILL THEY TAKE FROM YOU FOR LIFE?
He went on to list 10 life skills that are also at the heart of learning mathematics:

1) Just do it.
2) Make mistakes and fail but never give up.
3) Keep an open mind.
4) Explore the consequences of new ideas.
5) Seek the essential.
6) Understand the issue.
7) Understand simple things deeply.
8) Break a difficult problem into easier ones.
9) Examine issues from several points of view.
10) Look for patterns and similarities.


I wish I could expand on every one of these, but I try not to get TOO long-winded on here. I will include some related quotes of his, though:
A teacher's goal is to touch lives, to change them, empowering students to think more effectively and to have them see and understand thier lives in a clearer more focused way.

As a community we don't teach our students the greatest lesson mathematics has to offer: HOW TO FAIL (and how to learn from failure).

Five percent of the grade in my class is failing well. If someone says something wrong it moves us forward, and the student doesn't have to be embarrassed about a mistake because it has contributed to the discussion.

Creativity can be taught. Teach students to look at the world, to think, to create . . .
POST SCRIPT: Part of the upside-down aspect of this is his suggestion to invert homework and classwork - for instance by having the lecture online so students take notes outside of class but THINK in class (rather than "recording minutes"). In class we should provide "opportunities for anxiety" - something that can prepare students for tests better than doing homework in relaxed situations. He had lots of suggestions for what to do in class: 1) STOP LECTURING, 2) Use activities like: "Speed Rounds," "Show No Work," "Round Robin," and "The Shuffle." 3) Provide opportunities for students to fail (safely) and show them how to learn from that failure - what specific lessons that failure teaches about what path not to take and why.