What do we do when the needs of our students conflict with the mandates of our profession?
I share this dilemma because I think it’s important that we do so as educators. Too often, we privatize our experiences in isolated silos, unwilling to expose our sense of conflict and turmoil as we navigate the messy dilemmas inherent in our work.
Failure seems safer when no one is watching. We need to have the courage to make failure cheap.
A friend and I were reflecting over a beer at Twitter Math Camp in July about how to get more elementary teachers to attend this amazing conference. (Click here to know more!)
He’s an inspirational colleague with a background in special education at the elementary and middle school level. We were talking about content knowledge. He said, “My ability to teach math has always been limited by my lack of content knowledge beyond middle school.” After pondering a beat, I replied, “Me too.” Knowing my teaching experience, he leaned back with a skeptical smirk and looked askance at me. I continued…
One of the reasons why we teach is because we want our students to experience the JOY of mathematics. Mathematics should be about questioning, wondering, and the joy of discovery…and math classes should leave students wanting to know more math and do more math thinking. We cannot build an appreciation of math through content standards alone. Math classes should be filled with opportunities for students to have voice and a choice. At the very least, they need a voice in making meaning of problems and a choice in how they go about seeking a pathway to a solution.
But sometimes we (or our textbooks) squash all the joy out of a math lesson. We rob them of their right to notice math things, wonder about math ideas, or do messy math stuff. And lessons that focus on “measurable outcomes” with “explicitly defined objectives” often euthanize mathematical curiosity.
Welcome back Math Geeks! I’ve been thinking a lot about the objectives of lesson objectives, and I’m committing to writing a series posts to spark a conversation. I’m curious about how you frame lesson objectives to maximize student thinking, and I invite you to tell me. If you missed my first post about ways to make the learning objective an invitation and not a mandate, I encourage you to check it out here.
Dan Meyer has written extensively about the importance of creating intellectual need in the mathematics classroom. If we are going to ask students to use mathematics to solve problems, we need to let students internalize problems through inquiry and exploration BEFORE we teach them the mathematics. As Dan suggests, if math is the aspirin, then how do we create the headache?
Why we teach must align with how we teach. In other words, our professional identity (the reasons why we became teachers in the first place) must be congruent with our choices and our practices in the classroom. When purpose and practice are not aligned, both teachers and students waste energy fighting needless friction in the classroom and learning suffers.
One habit where I continue to see a misalignment between purpose and practice centers on how we post, frame, communicate lesson objectives to our students. All teachers want students to be inspired, motivated, engaged, and curious, yet I’ve witnessed a lot of teachers euthanize student intellect by spending the first 5 minutes of a lesson reading aloud and unpacking a lesson objective that is written on the board.