Over my break so far, I've read some great books: The End of Molasses Classes by Ron Clark, The Excellent 11 by Ron Clark, and Teach With Your Heart by Erin Gruwell.

Now I know that these are out of the ordinary teachers. The books made me laugh, cry, and get angry. Parts of them inspired me, parts of them made me want to quit. But what bothered me the most was...I couldn't relate.

I loved reading about how Erin Gruwell used pop culture to engage students in reading and writing. I loved how Ron Clark took his students on life changing field trips that related to what they were studying in history. But how does this apply to teaching math?

I can never think of ways to incorporate new ideas into what I teach. I can read something on the Internet, find a new iPad app, hear something at a conference, and immediately think of how it would work beautifully in English or Social Studies. I never know how to make things work for math.

I don't know how to relate math to real life. It doesn't relate. They will never use this stuff in real life. I sure don't. How will learning systems of equations help them deal with their problems at home? How will graphing parabolas help them avoid drama? How will using the distance formula help them face their fears and overcome obstacles and become amazing people? How can math be life changing?

I know I sound like one of my own whiny students, but I can't help it. These are emotions that I face time and again. I am not inspired by math, why should they be? Am I teaching the wrong subject?

How is it that I put in all this time and feel like I am killing myself and yet still only accomplishing a fraction of what other teachers are doing? We can't even use experience as an excuse. Erin Gruwell started doing crazy things even in her student teaching.

I'm not having a pity party or saying I suck. I'm saying that mentally, I cannot wrap my head around bringing math to life, relating it to the world, planning field trips around math, or making it inspiring.

I don't know how to be that person.

That frustrates me because I feel like I can't learn. And not being able to learn just upsets me to the very core of my being. I am a professional learner! I may suck at things but I can always learn how to be better. And now, I can't.

I don't know how to learn this.

"I don't know how to relate math to real life. It doesn't relate. They will never use this stuff in real life. I sure don't. How will learning systems of equations help them deal with their problems at home? How will graphing parabolas help them avoid drama? How will using the distance formula help them face their fears and overcome obstacles and become amazing people? How can math be life changing?"

ReplyDeleteHm, I teach physics and sometimes I wonder the same. Although, I probably have it a little easier because in physics, we apply the math. At the same time, there's a lot of problem-solving we do in physics that students would never have to do in their life unless they continue their education or career in something STEM-related.

From the point of view of a professional, I don't believe it's our job to solve our students' life problems immediately. That might be a separate philosophical debate about the role of education. However, I believe we do have an obligation to give our students the tools that may open doors for them. There are no easy immediate solutions to many of the deep problems our students might have, but getting a proper education could be a long-term solution. It's debatable whether the ability to find the log of cos^-1(x) should be a prerequisite for a "proper education", but that's not a battle I'm picking right now. So, I would say, in a way you are helping students change their lives.

But really, that's very idealistic and all, but when it comes down to planning a lesson and reflecting how the day went, neither teachers or students are really looking 5-10 years into the future. Luckily for us, I think that also makes it somewhat irrelevant to address these things (like how Dan Meyer harps on posters that try to inspire students by promising them math will be useful in a career 10 years from now). Students can be engaged by and appreciate learning something that is immediately useful, maybe in a somewhat artificial situation. Many are motivated by curiosity and small challenges. They might not bother thinking about how to engineer a building so it doesn't collapse, but they might be hooked on wondering if a fictional superhero's superpowers could become a reality. Irrelevant to life, but engaging at the moment.

I think that's what a lot of Dan Meyer's stuff is about. Maybe there is a way for you to connect math to your students' immediate issues... but... whether it makes me a horrible teacher for saying so, or whether it reflects poorly on our educational system... I don't think that's something necessary for us to do to be effective teachers.

As an intro to systems I like to throw problems at them like:

ReplyDeleteCloth diapers cost less overall but more to start with compared to disposable diapers. How long do you need to use cloth diapers before the costs are equal?

Since hybred cars cost more than regular cars, how long before you break even on buying a hybred?

Mixture problems are great for linking in with chemistry... especially if you point out that on limited school budgets, science teachers usually buy pure chemicals and then mix to the appropriate amount themselves for class labs.

Problems like this ARE real life problems... and while they can be solved in other ways, using systems makes it MUCH easier.

Its hard to come up with things, but eventually stuff will filter out. Dont be afraid to adapt stuff from your life too. It helps them see you as a person, and how it can be used.

As an intro to systems I like to throw problems at them like:

ReplyDeleteCloth diapers cost less overall but more to start with compared to disposable diapers. How long do you need to use cloth diapers before the costs are equal?

Since hybred cars cost more than regular cars, how long before you break even on buying a hybred?

Mixture problems are great for linking in with chemistry... especially if you point out that on limited school budgets, science teachers usually buy pure chemicals and then mix to the appropriate amount themselves for class labs.

Problems like this ARE real life problems... and while they can be solved in other ways, using systems makes it MUCH easier.

Its hard to come up with things, but eventually stuff will filter out. Dont be afraid to adapt stuff from your life too. It helps them see you as a person, and how it can be used.

Frank,

ReplyDeleteIf I'm not teaching them how to learn or inspiring them to learn, then I don't feel like I'm being effective. No, I don't feel like I have to solve all of their problems. I feel like I don't know how to make math inspiring.

Elaine,

Yes I do the same type of word problems. But in real life, I would not. I have nothing to share from my life either because I don't use any of this in real life other than basic mental math. That's the problem. It's not useful to me and in turn, I don't know how to make it appear useful to them.

During my first year of teaching, I spent several days on adding/resolving vectors. Basically, pathagorean theorem and SOHCAHTOA stuff. Problem solving, pencil and paper stuff. I figured what the heck, let's do a little activity. I made up some scenario of a treasure hunt and say instead of walking 3 steps forward then 4 steps right, would it be possible to get from point A to point B with a specific number of steps in a diagonal line (I think my instructions were clearer than this but who knows). Even though I thought we beat pythagorean theorem to death, several of the students tried it out and after walking the distances and finding out the number of hypotenuse steps matched what the math predicted, their reaction was like "whoa, it really worked!" My reaction to them on the surface was something like "Yeah, see? Good job." But in my head I was thinking "No $#!%. What do you think we've been doing the past few DAYS."

ReplyDeleteWell, even though the past few days I was giving them problems I thought were real life contexts, they were still doing problems. I'm still working on it this year, but I think actual application of the content in even trivial situations is more meaningful than solving a paper problem with an important "real life" context. I know it's no solution, and maybe it's something you already do, but for what it's worth, students might find it more engaging to accomplish small things with math instead of solving for an answer to write in a box.

This comment has been removed by the author.

ReplyDeleteSometimes I think it would have been easier to be a ELA teacher. Doesn't it seem like nearly EVERY workshop and new idea applies to them?

ReplyDeleteI have no real solution, but wanted to chime in as a fellow second year teacher: you're not alone! I like Frank's idea of applying concepts in "even trivial situations," but have a hard time imagining ways to do that when I'm planning (what seems like) my eighteenth lesson on solving equations.

It's frustrating because I am used to being good at things! I keep hoping that if I can figure out a way to help them get excited about a concept here and make connections with a couple of concepts there, then with a few more years of experience under my belt, I'll be able to work up to something resembling a master teacher. I'm not there yet.

PS-Sorry about the deleted comment. My grammar showed why I'm not an ELA teacher!

Frank,

ReplyDeleteThat's probably the best solution we can all come up with. And I agree. Especially my geometry class this year. They've struggled a lot with things that seem basic to me so I've had to come up with ways for them to do hands-on things with items they can manipulate. I guess I need to work on doing more of that. I think kids asks 'when will I use this' if they are bored. Maybe by doing more engaging things, it wouldn't cross their mind to even ask.

Meredith,

LOL at your P.S.!! Maybe if we planned to apply concepts in trivial ways from the very beginning, we wouldn't have to plan 18 lessons! lol