While I had never officially taught the Quadratic Formula, nor expect to anytime soon, the process of co-creating a lesson with MattB and JasonM proved a valuable experience in itself. Working with some great minds really offered a look into the mind of more experienced instructors who have experimented far more than I have within my first two years. I will take this opportunity to give what Joel likes to call a “shout out” to both of these guys. I would have been satisfied if I had just merely observed the brainstorming, discussion of objectives and the thinking process required to complete our finished product. I learned much from the creative process as I watched these two debate the merits of different techniques and styles. In the end, I played a fairly significant role, I think, getting the code up and running smoothly. We left feeling, I hope, with a nice, interactive Mathematica module for public consumption and a positive response toward the creative process.
This level of collaboration, while not entirely feasible, opened my eyes to how much more thought I could invest in my lessons, how much more care I could take in planning. I think I already invest a fair amount of time, thought and care. Were we saddled merely with teaching responsibilities, time for such such adventures might be a possibility. The truth, as we know it – we are not. Still, this provided a robust discussion of how to make this happen more regularly. Is it possible with in a group of teachers responsible for teaching the same section? Is it possible within an individual department to share materials, ideas, strategies and results of our experimentation more regularly and more efficiently? Could it be possible to arrange meetings, similar to this venue, of an inter-departmental nature to do exactly what we have done this week? Judging by some of the reactions at dinner last night, it appears that other TLI groups benefitted from similar conversations and would also be interested in pursuing something like this.
Will made such a great point yesterday and I thank him for this reminder. There are many reasons teaching advanced classes is great – sharp, motivated students, engaging material, the extent you can push the pace and investigate in depth. Still, these courses can be stifled in red-tape. They are, at the same time, often content or curriculum driven, tethered to a common exam, and occasionally filled with students whose chief concern is “what do I need to know to get an A?” Will’s point was: teaching some of our regular courses offers an opportunity to experiment (not without consequence entirely) in ways we are not free to do in others. I don’t think that I will eschew AP courses, but if I do end up teaching another non-AP Calculus section this year, I will make even greater efforts to incorporate the PBL (problem based learning) approach that has worked so effectively in my Finance sections. Students are forced to work hard, but (most) take far more away from the experience. Public speaking, writing, group work (which I view as an absolutely essential skill to impart) become prized, and our students learn how to contribute to something greater than their own problem set.
People have raised the question: if students will encounter a lecture setting in college, isn’t it our responsibility to prepare them for what they will see? Thus, are we doing our students a disservice teaching them to learn in a different way than they will in college? To those I say, if we can effectively do what we purport: teach these minds to read, write, analyze and think, it won’t matter. In fact, students will be better equipped to supplement lectures or teach themselves in college or beyond. They will have some skills to help them navigate new problems they haven’t before seen. And really, isn’t this the entire point of an independent school education?