As with last year, though, my big difficulty is the translation from theory to practice. I have a real love of talking the progressive ed talk and a hell of a difficult time walking the walk. It's easy to blame my field - math is notoriously resistant to real change - but that's not good enough.
In my session, my original goal was to talk about creating a "100-hour course" - what topics to include, what to delete, but the conversation did exactly what these sessions should do. It took a turn in a direction I wasn't expecting, and led to a wonderful discussion of refocusing the course idea to teaching mathematical thinking. We talked about how in many senses the content we choose for the course doesn't matter, if we have good problems to work on with our students and good topics to talk about with them. I thought that was great! At EduCon, this idea of "teaching learning" came up repeatedly throughout the weekend, in a bunch of different contexts; so often in fact that I began to think it was a theme...
Which leads me to a possible resolution of my difficulty. Maybe one thing I can do, RIGHT NOW, is to block out some time in my classes, each week, to have my students think mathematically (or analytically, or algorithmically, or quantitatively, or whatever). Provide them with mathematical food for thought and let them work on it - alone, in groups, at the board, on a laptop or smartphone, whatever. It'd be awesome if, somewhere down the road, a student could use Mathematica or Octave or something and write equations for pasta, for example:
|Equations from "Pasta By Design", by George L. Legendre|
Another thing I can do, RIGHT NOW, is to start getting serious about creating educational content and making it available. The last session I attended on Sunday was run by Bill Fitzgerald of Funny Monkey, all about the issues around adopting, using and creating open educational content. I learned a ton from this session and got a great deal of good ideas in the abstract - my next steps will be to do something with those ideas.
By the time I got on the road yesterday afternoon, I realized that I had gotten more out of EduCon than I think I even could have hoped. My session was filled with great, smart, thoughtful math educators (who passed on the chance to see some terrific sessions occurring at the same time - and I am grateful!) whom I learned a lot from and engaged with. The sessions I went to later on Saturday - on Inventing to Learn with Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez, on the marvelously creative Break the Bell project with Andrew Carle, Jodi Kittle, Melissa Scott, Carey Pohanka and Melanie Barker, provided me with lots of different ways of envisioning what can go on in a school or classroom. The first session I attended Sunday was by the amazing Audrey Watters; it was a sound-the-alarm/call-to-action talk about the politics of ed-tech. There is more going on "above our pay grades" than most of us - all of us - realize, in terms of policy decisions and lobbying, and by whom, and for what ends. Audrey continues to be someone I admire greatly for her willingness to dive into the education/tech/policy issues and for her ability to make them clear to the rest of us.
Finally, today, after yet more midterms, I was thinking about another entire avenue for exploring mathematical thinking: electronics, programming, and "maker" culture in general. Below is a picture of a Raspberry Pi minicomputer. Costs about $30 (US), and can do amazing things.
How much math is here? How much creativity could we help our students develop with one of these? If we gave them the time to explore, try, fail, and succeed? I was given some time this past weekend at EduCon to learn from amazing people, to talk, to listen, to create, and to argue. Teachers and students in general deserve time to do these things routinely. That's my takeaway from the weekend, ultimately.
Postscript (1/31/13):I am immensely gratified that other educators who attended the session have chosen to write about it. Kyle Webb wrote a really nice piece - I am still trying to wrap my mind around teaching a math course without fractions! And Ihor Charischak also had a lot of thoughtful things to say - how I probably misdirected the session at first by focusing on specific curricular elements to include or delete, for example. I'm very grateful for his bringing up the book "Mathematics: A Human Endeavor", which sounds like an intriguing place to begin looking for resources to teach mathematical thinking. Finally, a big THANK YOU to Ian Quillen of KQED's Mind/Shift blog for spreading the word! Much appreciated!