Monday, April 4, 2011

Where do you stand on teaching mathematics?

Today my Teaching and Learning Middle Grades Mathematics course begins their unit on teaching mathematics. This follows units on doing mathematics and learning mathematics. We begin this unit by taking a simile survey that asks respondents to complete the following:

Ideally, a mathematics teacher is like a(n):
a. Coach
b. Doctor
c. Entertainer
d. Gardener
f. Orchestra Conductor

• Choose the simile that you believe best describes a mathematics teacher and explain your choice.
• Choose the simile that does the worst job of describing a mathematics teacher and explain your choice.
• Is there another simile that does a better job than these of describing a mathematics teacher? If there is, then what is it and what makes it better than these?

This survey follows similar simile surveys done for doing and learning mathematics. The doing mathematics unit had integers as one of the topics, so I asked my learners to rate the "doing" similes from -5 (the worst) to 5 (the best). We created a life-sized number line as a way to share and compare our choices.

Rational number was the mathematical focus in the learning unit. For this survey, learners assigned their worst "learning" simile a 1 and then decided how many times better each other simile was than the worst one. The life-sized number line went from 0 to 1 this time. Learners computed the following ratio for each simile: simile rating to best simile rating. (i.e. The best simile was a one.) Again, we shared and compared our choices by standing on the number line.

The teaching mathematics unit concentrates on geometry. Today, I will ask them to stand in one of four corners representing strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree for each simile. It is certainly a simpler process than the others but it often results in some interesting discussions.
Ideally, a mathematics teacher is like an entertainer. Where do you stand?

1. The two I usually most strongly disagree with is entertainer and news broadcaster. But the argument is the thing. I've had teachers and preservice teachers give great reasons for things I never imagined could be argued for.

So an entertainer... I probably react strongly to this because I started out with Letterman as an idol for teaching. Because teaching was about being up in front of people. I was a Bad Teacher(tm).

But entertainers figure out (assess) what is missing, they are often creative, they form relationships with their audience... A good comic often figures out a context out of which truth emerges. A good director figures out a hook and compelling image and gives feedback that improves actors' performance. There's the crux! An entertainer usually doesn't care about the audience growing in ability.

Though I once saw Bobby McFerrin and he taught us all how to sing a little better. So maybe teaching is not so much like entertaining, but more entertainers should consider going into teaching.

2. I agree. I've learned more from people's rationale than their simile choice. I am hoping to have a post later this semester that highlights some of my learners' explanations for this simile survey.

Thanks, John, for sharing your thoughts.