Sunday, March 31, 2013

Learning can be fun!

"Math class is tough." -Barbie Doll (1992)

"To most outsiders, modern mathematics is unknown territory.  Its borders are protected by dense thickets of technical terms; its landscapes are a mass of indecipherable equations and incomprehensible concepts.  Few realize that the world of modern mathematics is rich with vivid images and provocative ideas."  -Ivars Peterson

Currently, I am working on my PACT. Well, currently I am writing this blog post, and procrastinating on my PACT. It is due in a week, and I've spent hours and hours making very little progress during my spring "break." I have re-watched myself teaching this lesson so many times, and believe me, watching videos of yourself teaching should really be reserved for a special level of hell.

The PACT is just another (major) hurdle to clear to get a California teaching credential. It involves video taping lessons, writing lesson plans, and describing what you planned, did, and what students did and learned in excruciating, and incredibly repetitive detail, responding to semi-confusing, jargon-y, overly-complicated prompts. So basically the opposite of what teaching is really about: making subjects accessible to students.

One moment during my teaching of the lessons stuck with me. I taught a learning segment of three lessons on measurement. We made our own rulers, measured objects in both feet and inches, and discussed when it's best to use a yardstick, measuring tape or inch ruler. Most of my students seemed to get it, but mathematical discussion and real problem solving is a huge weakness, and I get the feeling that it's a nation-wide problem in math class, and not just in mine. (And I'm not just randomly speculating--check out this great TED talk on math curriculum). Still, we were using real rulers! Manipulatives! Getting to physically do math!

And at the end of my second lesson, we were packing up and getting backpacks ready to go and one of my students goes "Ms. Elson, aren't we going to do math today?"

This was the best-and worst-thing to hear. The best because it meant that my students were engaged, and having fun--they didn't realize they were learning! But the worst, because there is also this pervasive belief that learning--that learning math--is not fun. That because they were enjoying doing the work, it couldn't possibly have been math.

I think that's why students decide they don't like school--because there is this societal belief that learning and school is hard work which cannot be fun. That having to read or do math can be punishments. That recess and lunch are what students look forward to. It's not all the students' fault--it's the language we all use--parents and teachers in life. Sure, sometimes the only way to get a student to read is if they're required to. But hopefully students realize that just because it's homework doesn't mean they can't enjoy it. We see this everywhere. Everyone looks forward to the weekend. Everyone complains about their job. No one likes to wake up early, Mondays are the worst, LOL I'm looking at cat pictures at work because I'm so bored.

I'm guilty of it too! Classes start tomorrow, and I can't say I'm excited about 2-3 hour evening classes again, plus I dislike homework just as much as my students do. But I still enjoy a lot of my classes, and now that my takeover is over, I enjoy going into school again. I may be terrible at getting out of bed in the morning, but I chose my career because I love working with kids and education is something I'm passionate about. I was also a kid who liked going to school. I have more books than there is space on bookshelves in my room, and I still buy new books despite no time to read them. I still enjoy learning. And sometimes I find myself complaining about work/school, and exaggerating my complaints/relief at it being Friday because that's what everyone else is doing.

I tell my students that yes, learning is hard, and sometimes not all fun and games but it's still important. But maybe it could be fun, if we just reimagined the value we put on things. It's amazing that simply by calling some random activity a game, and making it slightly competitive can get kids excited. If we can simply begin to instill a passion for learning and being curious, we wouldn't need to go to extensive lengths to get kids to read and do math.

For now, it's back to my PACT, a most decisively not fun experience. Though I don't feel like I'm really learning anything, at this point, unlike my second graders, I can see and reason the value of trying, and putting in the work for the benefit of my future.

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