So good that we can’t be ignored
I want to start by thanking the college for being so invested in the development of our staff that they are willing to spend some serious cash to give instructors the means to improve. Amazing. After just one day at the AMAYTC conference, I learned about integration of study skills into our dev ed classes, applied problems to enhance pre-service teacher teaching, the difference between mathematical modelling and modelling with mathematics (there is a difference people!) but the most amazing and trans-formative talk was given to the entire group of 1200 of us. And here is the trick – at 3:30 in the afternoon after we had been sitting for hours listening to various sessions, she engaged us. Nearly every one of us. I am in awe of Maria Andersen. She was the keynote at the AMATYC conference. She modeled what her classroom would look like (if she still had one). After some internet stalking of my new math education crush, I learned of her career trajectory: teacher first, Canvas (Infastructure) creative genius, and now educational consultant and full time convocation speaker. I will forgive her for no longer being in the classroom, because this allows her to spread her message…
Now onto the important stuff – what exactly did she say to get this kind of adulation from me? Well, first one more background piece. My best friend lost her job about a month ago and so her and I have had a few conversations about following our passion. I love teaching at YC, but am I following my passion? To answer this question, I picked up the book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” and I see Maria reflected in each word of this book. I see her blogs, her ideas, her research, and I am inspired to try harder. Constructively try harder to make my classroom bolder, more innovative, and most importantly the one where they actually (actually!) retain something. Anyway, back to the keynote.
She started with background – her mother had a tumor at 35 and lost her ability to learn and perform simple tasks, so Maria became obsessed with learning and brain research. Grabbed us, right?
Now that she had our attention, she illustrated the three main components to actual learning. What we tend to do in math is fill the brain with knowledge, then practice until the skill is “learned”. But not retained. So the challenge was to figure out how to get the students to learn how to struggle, overcome the struggle, thereby making the brain connections to the material. Finding rich tasks that force students to struggle (and understand that the struggle is going to lead to good things and not bad) is difficult. One of the studies that she referenced – (wish I had a link to the study) – showed the interactions in a group of classrooms at a four year; they found on average only 4 or 5 people per class with multiple interactions. One of the people, obviously, was the instructor. So her challenge was to create an environment where students were interacting with each other, the teacher, and the material in a way that is not just telling them and letting them take notes over the material. And I’ve heard over and over again that engagement is the key to student success, but I was mistakenly thinking that my classroom was full of interactions, but it really isn’t. Draw straws and call on an unsuspecting individual forces everyone to pay attention, so that is doing the trick right? Uhhh…no!! Put them up to the board to work on problems together; this is great if you haven’t already told them all the steps to solve the problem. Where is the struggle in that? Having the students write their own definition for something does the trick, right? Until I see furious writing when I post the definition as they have just been waiting for me to save them. Practice until you can re-gurge the exponent rules – works great for that semester until I see the same students two semesters later asking them to apply those rules to logarithms and they act as though they haven’t learned the exponent rules (shame on me because they haven’t)
Do I have moments of sunshine in this wasteland of (lack of) interaction? I can think of a few activities I do throughout the year that really force the students to think, communicate their thinking, and apply their knowledge in a way that will create these pathways. But it is not enough.
My current read tells me that following your passion is bull. When you follow your passion, you end up jumping from career to career, thinking what you are doing can’t really be enough. The author found data to support the happiest employees are those that have been in their profession for a long time, developing the skills and know-how to be an expert in what they do. In essence, being so good they can’t ignore you, and even better, being so good that you feel good and accomplished in what you do. You have invested so much in being who you are in work, that you are confident or at least can act confident in your pursuits.
So now I must wrap up this rambling musing and get to a point. Can I walk away from this experience and actually sit down with some research, materials, and dedicate time to making my classroom a place that students deepen their understanding and gain long term learning? Can I balance my time to be able to create a classroom I can honestly say is my best? Now that I know how far short I am falling, can I rise to the occasion? Most importantly, what am I going to do to extend this to my online students so I can get them involved in their learning? I ask you all to make me accountable and help me become so good that I can no longer be ignored….