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How To Get Excited About Teaching (Again)
by Bill Reed
Many teachers are finding it hard to get excited about teaching these days. There are many reasons for this, but you can bring that excitement back for you and your students!
Here are a few questions for you to consider:
- Why did you become a teacher?
- What is it about your subject that gets you excited?
- What have you done lately to spark that joy and excitement (again)?
- How long can you continue doing what you are doing without seeing the joy and success?
What is the best way to get that excited feeling back again?
I was a classroom math teacher for over 33 years. People would laugh and make fun of me for how I would relate math to our everyday lives. They gave me the nickname “That Math Guy”. Keeping in mind the questions I asked at the start of this blog, teachers must do everything they can to make sure the how and why of math and science are being used outside of the classroom.
How can teachers make the how and why visible for students? They must take the time and effort to immerse themselves in math and science. There are some simple things teachers can do to facilitate this imperative part of their instruction. For instance, teachers can job shadow professionals in the field using math and science on a daily basis. We all know how valuable job shadowing is for students. It allows students to see what skills are used in a career setting. Teachers need to do this since most teachers have not worked in an application setting for the subjects they are teaching.
I once shadowed a Ph.D. in Math and Engineering. I met him in his office one morning and it was interesting to see the tools he and his colleagues were using. Most engineering and the math calculations are all done on computers and calculators. I did not see any work being done by hand. It was a valuable experience to know that as teachers we must make sure students know how to use tools like calculators and computers to do the math and science they are learning.
As we drove to the first job site we visited I asked him, “How do you use the math and science you learned in college?”. He chuckled and said, “I don’t!”. I was taken aback and surprised by his answer. I asked him to explain. He said not to get him wrong, he needs to know math and science, but he said he has junior engineers using computers and calculators to do the calculations and engineering on most of the projects. What he needed his math and science for was to be able to recognize when the calculations and engineering did not make sense or were wrong! He told me in no uncertain terms that the most important skill we must install in students is the skill of estimation.
This experience was an eye opening experience for me. Since that summer, I always ask students if their answers are reasonable. Do their answers make sense? I regularly ask students, before they give me an exact answer, what would be the range for a reasonable answer. You are seeing these skills used in the wonderful “Three Act Lessons” teachers are using to engage students. Components of a Three Act Task are simple.
Act 1 – Engage, Describe, and Understand
Act 2 – Seek Information, Make Conjectures, Estimate, Find a Solution
Act 3 – Reveal the Solution, Discuss Processes, Extend Thinking.
Making Art Connections
Another wonderful way math and science teachers can make the how and why visible to students is to connect their subject to other subjects students would not normally relate them to. For instance Music and Art. Math and Science have so many connections to these disciplines. Have you ever wondered why some artwork and buildings are considered “beautiful” and “perfect” and others are just OK or unheralded? If you take a little time and dig into this you will find that how math and science are used can help determine if the object will be pleasing and recognized.
Take Leonardo Da Vinci’s works of art as an example. His use of the “Golden Ratio” is what helped make the Mona Lisa, Last Supper, and Vitruvian Man world famous works of art. Geometric shapes play an enormous role in art. Some of the most expensive and most well respected art piece
s are nothing more than a group of geometric shapes that compose the work. Finally, I am guessing everyone remembers the infamous “Color Wheel” and the colors of the rainbow “ROY G BIV”. Combining colors is not much different than combining chemicals to make compounds.
What are you Listening To?
Tying math and science to music is another great way for students and teachers to see the how and why along with the beauty in these subjects. Are you or your students aware that the Musical Scale, which is the basis for all music, is totally mathematical? Again, I love asking the question, “ Why is some music considered pleasing and others are just annoying”. It has to do with so many mathematical functions and scientific principles around the human brain and body. Here is a wonderful website that connects math and science to music!
I still remember the only math film, and now video, that was a true math presentation that students enjoy! Do you remember “Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land”? As a teacher I actually purchased this DVD so I could show it to my students either the day before Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Spring Breaks. If you are too young to remember this incredibly fun, entertaining, and educational video you can watch it here: “Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land”. If you watch 3:00 minutes into the video you will see how music is mathematical. There are so many other interesting mathematical connections to things students would never connect to things they see and use regularly.
Find the Joy
What I am hoping with this blog is to show and encourage you to find the beauty, joy, and awe you have had about the subjects you teach. Share that joy and wonder with your students. I hear students say all the time, “When are we ever going to use this?!?”. That is a legitimate question that deserves an answer. If we cannot relate the math and science we are teaching to our students’ lives then what we are teaching is just minutia and random facts. I hope you take some time this summer to reignite your love and passion for your subject. Find ways to relate what you are teaching to your students.
I taught Pre-Calculus and when we were studying Polar Graphs and Polar Coordinates students would always say in disgust, “When will this stuff ever be used?”. I still remember a student who was an excellent musician and had their own garage band. They were extremely adamant and said they would bet any amount of money they would NEVER use Polar Graphs the rest of their lives. I said I would take that bet! Then I showed them that if they understood Polar Graphs their band would have a much better sound! They looked at me like I was crazy (not totally unreasonable for them to think that, LOL). Then I showed them the information found on Shure Microphones like the ones they were using for their gigs. Guess what? Microphones are based on Polar Graphs! If you didn’t know that check this out. Microphone Basics, Transducers, Polar Patterns, and Frequency Responses.
On a closing note, it is amazing what you can find if you take some time and really look at what you are teaching and how it is used. If you would like to learn more about making connections for students, check out my blog about relatable math.
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