180 days of learning

180 days of learning

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“When will I ever use this in real life?”

August 28, 2012

“Mr. Delp how am I ever going to use  ________ (fill in the blank with whatever Algebraic skill you desire)  in real life?”  In the past, instead of embracing and preparing for this question, I usually responded to it in one of three ways(none of which I am very proud of)

  1. One way I responded was with a question, “Do you really know, what you are going to do the rest of your life?  When I was your age, I was not sitting in your seat thinking I am going to be a math teacher.”  – Avoidance
  2. Other times, I would try to create some hypothetical situation or possible profession that would incorporate the topic we were currently dealing with in class.  – Lame attempt at relevance
  3. Sadly on some my worst days, I would just threaten the class with a story problem.  Which I knew would lead to peer pressure by fellow classmates and a quick retraction of the question by the student.  DUH – when I made it punishment, no wonder they hated doing them. – Fear

The phrase “Enduring Understanding” has stuck with me ever since I was introduced to it at the New School Training for School of Inquiry by The New Tech Network this past June in Grand Rapids, MI.

What do I actually want my students to remember a year from now, two years from now, ten years from now?   

Do I really want them to be able to solve a quadratic equation using any one of the five methods I teach them during the course of the year? (Those of  you who actually clicked the link – some of you literally groaned – I heard you.)  I wonder how many adults ten years or more removed from high school could do this?  (Neither my brother nor my wife could do this when prompted just now) Better yet, how many teachers and administrators could pass the current ECA (End of Course Assessment) given to our high school Algebra I students?

I would venture to say without any brush up or review time, a very healthy majority of adults would not be able to pass the Algebra I ECA.  So why do some of the things we learn in school not endure?  Did the teacher just not teach the subject in a lasting way or was it because the student chose to just temporarily memorize the material?   Like physical training or any kind of training for that matter, any previous gains in academic understanding, without continuous application and practice or some kind of emotional connection, will be lost after a period of time.  Knowing that continuous application and practice will be rare, I began to wonder how I could create an emotional connection to the content as well as add skills and learning objectives that might actually endure.

With this in mind, I came up with a list of enduring understandings for the school year so far —

  1. I want students to have the ability to problem solve and think critically, collaborate and communicate effectively with others even under pressure.  For the first time ever, I will literally be assessing these skills this year in my course.
  2. I want students to discard the myth that if you ask questions you must be “dumb”.  Inquiry, vulnerability and learning how to learn must be embraced, encouraged and cultivated by both educators and students.  Creating an environment where this is safe and expected is a top priority this year.
  3. I want students to actually be able to see how mathematics connects to everyday life.  In our first project/problem, Algebra students are preparing a business quote/estimate for a wedding while connecting it to linear equations(writing, modeling and graphing).  Students will have to be prepared to communicate with a client(a role which Mrs. Kelsey Flynn enthusiastically volunteered for) their recommendations for various aspects of the wedding. (Rehearsal Dinner Restaurant, DJ and Reception Cater)  In addition the students will need to be able to adjust to any new demands the client might have in a live meeting.  In our next problem, students will working on solving linear equations while developing a household budget.

It may be unrealistic, but my ultimate goal is to never have to answer the question, “How will I use this in my real life?” ever again.  Hopefully because it won’t enter my students’ thoughts.

Written by Michael Delp – SOI Math Facilitator


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Great post. Relevance is so important and you summarized it very well.

Daniel Tyree

August 28, 2012

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