Tag Archives: learning

My first (and second) memory of learning math

Some time ago Wendy Menard got me thinking about my first memory of learning mathematics. What was it?

Its two things, actually. Both happened in fifth-grade. My teacher was a redheaded man with a great beard, Mr. O’Discoll (a.k.a Mr. O). Great guy, great energy. He made learning fun. He even played me and a couple of my friends in basketball at the end of the school year in the school gymnasium. We lost 100-98. I’ll never live it down.

Anyway, I digress. Back to learning math. The first vivid memory I have of learning math is the multiplication worksheets that Mr. O would give us. He would time us. I don’t  recall it ever being a race or competition to finish, but I do remember being pressured by time constraints.

The second memory comes from an exam that I took in his class. I don’t remember the math that was on it, but before the exam, I remember him telling us to always check our work after answering the problems. Well on this particular exam, I remember following his advice for about 3/4 of the exam, finding and fixing several mistakes, but then stopping — thinking that I had already done a great job. I was presumptuous. When Mr. O handed the exam back, I had a perfect paper — up until where I stopped checking my work. I had so many errors in the unchecked portion of my exam. I distinctly remember a comment he wrote directly on the exam: “why did you stop checking your work, Brian?”

Sometimes I think about how these two distant moments from my childhood have impacted how I teach mathematics.

Firstly, I teach mathematics the way I was taught math. I think this is the norm for so many teachers regardless of the subject — and it’s not a bad thing. It’s reality. In my case, drill-in-kill was what I experienced early and often, like in the case of Mr. O’s multiplication worksheets. This experience brainwashed me equate math with speed and correct answers…and this is very evident today in my teaching. I try hard to combat this, but I am not the most inquiry-based math teacher. I struggle to move beyond test-prep style learning. Its a product of the culture in which I teach, yes, but its also a direct result of the math education I received. This bothers me.

Secondly, through the years I have always been prone to mistakes when it comes to learning and teaching math. I consider myself a slow thinker, but I don’t want to be. Thanks to my fifth-grade class (and others no doubt), I want to get it on the first attempt. Sometimes I feel like I have to get it on the first attempt. Whether it is typos in handouts,  mistakes in grading, or my blunders in planning thoughtful mathematical experiences for my algebra 2 kids, I always find errors that could have easily been edited had I not been too lazy or overconfident to dig deeper. Heck, even my typo-laden tweets are evidence of this. Mr. O’s exam and his advice are always in the back of my head. I do my best to follow his advice, but I fail much more often than I succeed.

 

bp

 

Why I stopped flipping

Flip Flops

Four years ago, just before it became heavily commercialized, I flipped my classroom. I created video lessons that my students watched for homework. Class time was used for enrichment, reflection, and collaborative work. I ran with the model for a year and a half.

The other day, out of the blue, I was asked why I stopped. That made me think: back when I stopped flipping, I didn’t have this blog and never wrote about why I stopped. Here goes. Four years later.

Before flipping, I usually lectured. Sure, I disguised it with an enthusiastic and energetic delivery, but I lectured nonetheless. I wasn’t critical of my own teaching at the time, so I didn’t really think twice about it.

After I flipped, I had significantly more facetime with my kids and they had more time to reinforce new concepts. I was really happy about this. My students sat back absorbing new content like sponges, this time from a video embedded with summary questions. After all, a video lecture, however dressed up, is still a lecture.

The problem was that students weren’t discovering mathematics from my lessons. They weren’t interacting with mathematics or each other during the learning process. They weren’t debating with one another while learning something new. They weren’t being asked to find patterns and discuss them with a partner. They weren’t being challenged to make connections and develop understanding. They were using technology for learning, but not to learn. Their first impressions of so many beautiful mathematical ideas included pausing and rewinding a video that contained my face. In short, they didn’t construct their own learning. I did all of that for them.

I stopped flipping my classroom because I realized that I wasn’t flipping student learning, I was simply flipping my teaching.

I discovered that I needed them to take ownership and discover how and what they learned. What’s ironic is that I actually had to flip my classroom in order to realize this. Flipping allowed me to see my lessons through a more concentrated lens that highlighted my teacher-centered approach. More on this.

Four years later, do I regret flipping my classroom? Not a chance.

 

bp