Sunday, June 30, 2013

How Do You Not Know That?

A few things have made me think of the following this past week - the fact that students leave their 13 years of public schooling and don't know things people (some? most?) think should be basic. Then the people are shocked or upset or start thinking "the education system is broken!" "teachers are bad!" "what are they thinking!" "in my day, we learned these things!".

Some examples that I came across:
* Many teens can't read an analog clock.
* There are teens that still don't know their multiplication tables easily.
* There are teens/people that can't distinguish between (pick your favorite): your/you're, there/their/they're, lose/loose, its/it's, etc.
* Teens can't read or write cursive.
* Teens can't easily manipulate fractions.

I see these things in my students. I teach students in high school. I feel like I'm rushed to cover particular curriculum that is relevant to the course. I am guilty of shaking my head at their non-knowledge, but then not doing anything consistently to remedy the fact.

I can totally see how all this could come about. Let's take fractions, for example, but you could replace "fractions" with any of the other basic skills. These are taught in middle school (elementary?). It is very believable, from a teacher's perspective of knowing how things go, that, OH! It's time for the fractions unit. Let's spend our designated amount of time on fractions. Some students get it, and some don't. Oh no, we have to move on to our next topic for a variety of reasons. Too bad so sad that some students never mastered the fractions. Maybe we can practice them piecemeal within the next concepts. May or may not be enough. Flash forward all the remaining years of schooling. Fractions are either assumed to be mastered, or slightly reviewed, and maybe or maybe not mastered by the unknowing. Graduation day. There are students that don't know their fractions.

Then there are people that think, "oh, just use your calculator", or "no one ever REALLY needs to know that", or "I don't get it either! High five!".  Or, people don't say anything, but think less of them. But that just adds to the problem.

I don't know a fix. I guess if it was easy, it would be solved by now. I know I try to address fractions in ALL my classes, but I don't know if I give it enough justice to get EVERYONE 100% proficient. There always seems to be a laundry list of other things to teach.

It would be nice if there were passive ways of fixing this problem once it comes down the pipeline. For example, posters on the wall that you really don't refer to, but they're there for their perusal (see what I did there :) ). Maybe, just maybe the posters are engaging enough, like eye candy, that the students look at them periodically, and then absorb the knowledge eventually. I know you can't do this for everything, but maybe there are other such things to help.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Inventing. Innovation. Inspiration.

We just got back from our MIT field trip, and I'm still head shaking about how inspiring it is to hear talks from people that are so passionate about their work and about their world-changing ideas.

Here is a link to 2 Rice professors that have an engineering class that focuses on inventions to help people around the world. I still tear up when I watch it. My impression is that it is the students that think up the inventions. These professors will donate their winnings to establishing a new hospital in the African region they work with.

Here is a link to an MIT professor that uses the knowledge that organisms have to create digital solutions. One of the inspiring about her is that many times established journals thought her ideas were ridiculous and undo-able.Another inspiring thing about her is that she created her own undergraduate major that combined several disciplines. She also started her PhD program in a subject she had had no previous experience in, but had the confidence and grit and determination and curiosity to push through.

Here is  lab we visited. Students again think up and create solutions to problems plaguing developing countries. Some examples we saw were bike powered washing machines, ways of using corn cobs to create charcoal, wheel chairs that can maneuver around rough terrain.

Here is a link to the inventor of Fenugreen. She had the germ of her idea as a middle school or high school student and kept thinking about it but not pursuing it. She then tried to pursue it once with bad results. Then she put it away again. Then finally things slowly took off and she is currently working full time on her product.

The collegiate student winners were also inspiring. Some messages I hope the HS students listening to them took away:

1. Be curious, be open, be persistent,  have a team.
2. Just because you are "average" in high school, does not mean you can't go on to do amazing things later.
3. Be passionate about what you do, and work hard.
4. Do things not because it will just look good on your resume, but because you are genuinely interested in them.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

When am I Ever Going to Use This?

After 16 years of teaching, I know this question comes up at various times throughout EVERY year. I gauge the intention of the asker. Do they just want to waste time, so they can sit and zone out? Are they being ornery? Do they really want to know? I also have changed every year I teach, and as I ponder the question myself throughout the years.

The subject came up again during the last days of school when my seniors in calculus were going over good and bad things throughout their HS lives. One student mentioned the fact that she learned things she would never use again, and was maybe wondering what the point of it all was. My response to her was many fold but brief since others wanted to have their say on their HS experiences. I responded that even though I haven't directly used biology, for example, EVER after HS, I'm glad I learned it because now when news stories come up or research advances, I can be part of the conversation and have a semi-inkling of what's being discussed and what's at stake, and more importantly, I know enough to go find more information if I so choose. I also mentioned that learning a wide variety of things makes you a well-rounded person and it would be a shame if everyone only knew limited things because then their lives would be more constrained.

But in math class when students ask (and maybe I'm naive, but I think they truly want to know most of the time), I start out with, "you may never directly use this, but here is how it is used by others ....." and I make sure to have an example, or mention that I'll find one and get back to them.

I think a broader answer could be, "future employers want to know that you can learn challenging things that you're maybe not so interested in and then be able to apply them successfully in your work situation." Another answer could be, " learning and mastering and struggling through difficult-for-you concepts makes you smarter and more confident in learning in general." I guess we could also add, that when you stop learning or trying to learn things, then your brain starts to get flabby and liquidy and ooze out of your ears. That's not going to be good for anyone.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Changing Perspectives

Through a random conversation during the meetings held the last day of school, I was made aware of THIS. Or visually, this:

Whoa! Was I the only one that didn't know about this? I guess whoever was "first" in creating maps had a lead on others and decided the "normal" way for world maps to be drawn. Now it's convention (or maybe only in various northern hemisphere countries), and this way of seeing the world is unsettling.

Maybe we need to see more unsettling things in our lives to get us out of our rut, and maybe we need to interact with people who don't think and live like we do - even if it is unsettling, or maybe especially if it is unsettling.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Let the Summer Games Begin

NOW summer officially starts! Yesterday we had our commencement for our first graduating class. The day before we had rehearsals. The night after we had our end of the year party. Done.

Of course I use the term "summer" loosely, since I still get to go to Boston to finish up our inventing project. Then I have an online course to learn to create Apps on Androids. Then I have First Bytes summer camp to learn new things at. Then I have to figure out FTC to coach it next year. Then I am on call for 2 months for Federal Jury Duty. Then I have to create CS1 and a CS3 curriculum. But other than that, it's lazy days. And by lazy, I of course mean getting enough sleep and sneaking in puzzles and reading and web surfing and movies and time with friends and the popular and fun game of stay-away-from-the-refrigerator/cupboards.

Maybe like everyone else, I'll have this grandiose list of things I want to accomplish this summer (fun and work), and then as it most often happens, I'll panic when there are only 2 weeks left of summer and there are not enough crossings off of the list. Another fun summer game.