Thursday, January 20, 2011

New Semester, New Job

While technically I still have the same job (and the job I signed up for) and I'm still at the same school, last week marked the beginning of a significant transition from teaching 6th grade to Calculus.  I've taught both before (sometimes back to back), but going from all sixth grade all the time to all seniors (and a few juniors) all the time has been more jarring than going from one to the other in the same day.

I miss my sixth graders a lot.  They were excited and eager and energetic and brave.  We'd built a pretty fabulous learning environment.  Yes, I still had kids who were struggling with the content, with my style, with the transition to a new school, etc, but I knew who those kids were and they were making real, measurable progress.

Now I start all over again (never mind the fact that if there had been a memorizing/remembering names course in high school and if this course had been a required course for graduation, I'd probably still be sitting on the other side of my teacher desk).

Don't get me wrong.  My calc students are friendly, studious, and smart (in both traditional and non-traditional definitions).  

One gave this great "proof without words" of why 1/3+1/9+1/27+...=1/2

See it?  Beautiful!


  1. These are some great reflections on the difference between seniors and 6th graders and how they view their learning. As someone who has only taught high school students, I often think I'd love to jump into a 6th grade science class and see what it is like. I also love the proof without words. Fantastic.

    Also, thanks for the shout out in the NYT!

  2. Great post. I completely know what you mean--the energy of little kids is so refreshing. They take risks, they are creative, imaginative, playful. Even though I'm not in 6th grade anymore, I still try to bring that same playful, fearlessness into my math exploration. That's why I love geometry so much.

    Also, you have the best blog title ever. I agree wholeheartedly.

  3. I like your observation " All wrong answers are not created equal.".

  4. In regards to students being risk averse and “answer hungry”, I see this all the time with my own students (high schoolers). I think these are the same issue, just different parts. I think about my own teaching and I ask: “How often do I praise/reward students when they take risks?” (regardless of the success/failure of their risk, this is something that should be praised) and then “How often do I praise/reward students for getting the right answer to a problem?”
    The answers (for my case) are not as balanced as I would like them to be.

    I think teachers have a tendency to subtly “train” students as to what we deem important and what we value. And then students try and give us those things. I’m thinking of Dan Meyer’s “Clever Hans” photos. The ones of himself after a student gives a correct answer and after a student gives an incorrect answer. Can’t find the link right now, but worth taking a peek at if you haven’t seen them.

    I think students become scared to make mistakes (mine included) because we don’t praise/reward them enough for making GOOD mistakes. Miss Calcul8 had a recent blog post about how she likes it—and says so!—when her students make mistakes, because then they can all learn from the mistakes. I think that’s great! But it’s also really hard, because in essence what you’re doing is learning from the mistake how to *NOT* make the mistake again.

    How do you communicate to students that the act of making a mistake is valuable, but at the same time say to them "please don’t do this particular one again"?

  5. Calculus is one of the great joys in life. I wish there were more practical uses for it, haven't gotten to use it since high school. It makes me so happy to know some kids are getting teachers like you to teach it to them. I'm really looking forward to reading your posts about it.

    That pic really is beautiful.