Letting Go

I have to credit Cohort21 with forcing me so far outside my comfort zone as a teacher that risk-taking in my lessons has now become part of my comfort zone. As the first few weeks of school have progressed, I have been in awe almost every single school day. In awe of my students, their ideas and thoughts; in awe of my colleagues and what they accomplish;  in awe of the learning opportunities I am now capable of creating.

Last week I finally had the chance to use a 3-Act math activity, taken from Dan Meyer (also worth following on twitter @ddmeyer if you are a math teacher). I wasn’t really sure how the discussion would go, because it is so open-ended; we math teachers generally tend toward highly structured activities. I figured it had to be more fun than chalk-n-talk.

Here is how it went:

I showed a video clip (Print Job – watch it now!) and asked the students to write down any questions that came to their minds. We then put all those questions up on the board and I commented on them as I wrote them. All were valid questions, like:

– Why is the printer on the floor?

– Why waste all that paper?

– What kind of rug is that?

– What does this have to do with math?

– Wouldn’t it be faster to write than to print?

And then it was my job as the teacher to lead them to wanting to find out how long the print job took. Except, nobody asked that question. This was the first moment in the activity that I was scared. I didn’t have the thread of learning under control! We explored the idea of “what does this have to do with math” but it didn’t lead us any further. Then we explored the idea of speed – would it really be faster to write than to print? On what does that depend? … and then we had it: How many pages will there be? Where is the breaking point where printing is faster than writing?

Armed with interesting questions, the students identified what information they needed, and were provided with the Act Two information (# of pages, time for 3 pages to print). I then set them loose to calculate the total time needed. They were quick, and quite accurate. Their estimates were reasonable (all of them!) and they felt so secure in their answers. I was impressed: this group rarely feels that confident while doing math.

For Act Three, we watched the final video, talked about how close we were to the correct answer, what factors may have influenced the final time, etc. The discussion was interesting and engaging for everyone in the room, and then I was scared for the second time during the lesson. I didn’t have a segue into my actual topic of functions! How could I connect this engaging discussion to something as dry as function notation?! Again, the thread holding my lesson together was not under control! 

In a moment of insight, I found the connection and made a seamless transition, using our class-generated Printer Function that became P(x) = 3.41x. Whew!

Here is what I learned from letting go of control in my classroom: my students were more engaged, they were more confident in their answers, they were enjoying solving the problem, and they were learning. They were patient with me as I worked to tie our enjoyable discussion into theoretical math. I also learned that I don’t have to control every moment of learning in the classroom.

Perfection + Control ≠Learning

That might be an obvious statement. Learning doesn’t happen because I created perfect notes, a perfect lecture, the perfect sequence of constructivist mathematics. Sometimes it does, of course, but it also happens in messy, unpredictable, and uncontrolled ways. Thanks Cohort21 for making me (ever-so-slightly) less of a control freak!

 

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