Saturday, November 18, 2017

5 things I was NOT doing as a Math Teacher... that I wish I did

Recently, I heard a Harvard researcher state,
Sometimes the problem is not in what you are doing, but instead in what you are NOT doing.
This made me reflect upon my first 8 years of teaching math. What was I NOT doing that may have increased learning? If I could go back in time, here are 5 things I wish I did more (or even at all), in no specific order:

  • I never gave pictures to students and asked them, "Where should the origin be placed to best understand, or work with, this image?". Instead I would always supply images to my students with a Cartesian coordinate already drawn on. If I could go back, I would make time for students to discuss and debate on where is the "best place" for the origin to be placed on an image to solve the problem given.

  • I never explained what "simplify" truly meant. I would give students loads of questions and I would write "simplify" as a directing word. In my classes "simplify" meant: Add, subtract, factor, expand, combine like terms, rationalize denominator, etc. I wish I showed students where, and ultimately why, each form may be simpler than other forms; however, change the question and then a different form may be actually simpler.

  • I never asked students to actually measure needed quantities to solve problems. I usually gave students problems with all the information needed, even in the order they needed it, and then asked the question. If I could go back, I would have started asking questions such as "To solve this problem, what would we need to measure and/or determine?". I think it is important that students know how to measure, but more importantly they know what is worth measuring.

  • I never allowed students to be individuals, not only in the instruction process, but also the assessment process. Most of my tests required students to learn the required material by the same day, and then even asked my students to demonstrate learning the same way. If I could go back, I would allow students to demonstrate learning when they have mastered the material, regardless of the speed and pace of the other students. In addition, I would also have asked students to relate their learning, when possible, to their passions and interests.

  • I never built my course to allow connections to be built between essential learning outcomes. Instead, I built my course in units where I would teach outcomes as disjointed ideas and rarely make connections between each unit; I created silos of learning throughout the year. If I could go back, I would actually remove all notions of "units" in my course and instead weave big ideas throughout my entire course. Instead of teaching a big idea in September, and then only discuss it again during our "final exam review", I would ensure big ideas spanned the entire length of the course.
What are things, thinking back, did you NOT do?

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