Thursday, September 30, 2010

Made My Day

There is a YouTube TED presentation put on by math teacher Dan Meyer that describes in the opening sentences the plight in which math teachers often find themselves:

"Can I ask you to recall a time when you really loved something - a movie, an album, a song or a book? And you recommended it whole-heartedly to someone you also really liked, and you anticipated that reaction, you waited for it, and it came back and the person really hated it. So by way of introduction that is the same state in which I've spent every working day of the last 6 years. I teach high school math.


That's a tough spot!

I shared a couple of posts ago how I try to work to "create wonder" in my classes. Given the above, it's a tough prospect, but when it works it is a joyful thing for me and my students.

Today, in two situations, I saw the wonder, and it was beautiful!

One of these things was a student coming to office hours today who is in my Math for Liberal Arts class - basically a Math Appreciation class - just as there are Music Appreciation classes and Art Appreciation classes. We do something similar, sampling a wide variety of topics. I try to bring in the topics that are the most beautiful (tessellations and fractals) and that are the most different from arithmetic and algebra but are very applicable (topology/graph theory and logic). It was so cool talking with this student today, because he saw how much of the purpose of class was to develop a new way of looking at things, a mathematical vision that lends itself to a bigger picture of life and also new problem solving techniques that stretch the brain to envision things and approach them in new and productive ways. YES!!

Another situation was with another Math 101 student. One aspect of this class is math history, and the students will be teaching that part. They each need to select a mathematician on whom to do a presentation. This student had interacted with me a bit, debating which one to choose. She finally decided on Piet Hein. That's a name that appears regularly on my blog because he is a poet as well as a mathematician (as well as a scientist, inventor, game creator, and designer). He created a type of poetry that is one of my favorites: Grooks. For example, one Grook that has come to my mind a lot lately (in the face of the dilemma described in the opening lines of this post) is one that I've posted before:


Sometimes, exhausted
with toil and endeavour,
I wish I could sleep
for ever and ever;
but then this reflection
my longing allays:
I shall be doing it
one of these days.

In sending me her official request to have Piet Hein as her mathematician, this student wrote the following:

I'll speak of Hein's mathematical psalms,
Although, I must add this caveat:
I admit to having some qualms
About choosing the teacher's favorite!


I've had a smile on my face all evening from these two interactions. Teaching math is not easy, but sometimes it has some pretty rewarding moments, and today I had not just one but TWO of them that made my day!

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