Friday, June 13

why are we teaching it?

I have seen this in a few different places. And I couldn't take it anymore after reading it here again, so I have to add my few cents, it might be more than two.

Teach42 does a good job of at least looking for other reasons that students might skip class, but I'm not sure I've seen the obvious addressed: school sucks.

Why would any teenager want to be in that seat, unless you're forcing them to be? Are we, as teachers, educators, policy makers, giving teens a reason to come to school? And stay in school?
I must admit that even I throw around the term relevant like it was cheese on a pizza, but what does it mean for a HS kid who would rather spend his (or her) day lounging on someones sofa than in an uncomfortable desk, in an uncomfortable classroom, with awkward teenagers all around you? How do you make THAT situation relevant? Is it?

I say no. Rather, I say NO. do we fix that? Can we? yes. Yes!

By asking
1) what is it that kids NEED to know
2) what is it that kids WANT to know
3) how do those two things overlap

Teaching Pythagoreans theorem, while maybe nice to know, is NOT NECESSARY. I was never able to figure out how to actually use it, and to this day, have never actually used it. How to dissect pigs hearts may demonstrate important and transferable knowledge about our own health; dissecting sentences does not.

What are you teaching that you dread? What are you teaching that is totally and completely irrelevant? Most likely, if you hate it, so will your students. And once they wise up even just a little, and figure out that they don't HAVE to come to class after the age of 16, or whatever it might be in your state, they won't. Drop out rates--LOOK OUT!


Benjamin Baxter said...

Trouble is, the Pythagorean Theorem is absolutely essential for engineers and math majors.

High School has to prepare students for a little bit of everything, because we never know what they'll need in the future, and they certainly don't know, yet. Mile wide and inch deep is far better than premature specialization for students, even in high school.

everydayjae said...

You know...I kept thinking that too. Until I met *Steve.* Steve is an engineer in my program, who is leaving the profession after I-don't-know-how-many-years to teach math in a public high school. Is the math he will be teaching relevant to his former profession, we asked?

Hell no, was his response. It might teach some basic principles, but in all reality, he never once used any of the formulas or theorems in his career, as either an engineer or a college professor.

So an inch deep and a mile wide is a crappy theory to teach by. How about, "You'll really actually need this" (how to work well with people, play nice, read, sing, laugh, build a shed/fix a sink/wipe a hard drive, love interpret poetry) so here's how you do it...?

Benjamin Baxter said...

Fair enough. I'll take your word for it.

However, theoretical mathematicians certainly use it, or need the concepts to learn about the cutting edge in their field. You need high school math to work in the nuts and bolts of programming, too, or, as I know from my programming classes, you at least need math concepts to learn the nuts-and-bolts concepts of programming.

Logical, ordered thinking is certainly needed as an overall concept, and can be --- though isn't always --- taught through math.

Check out the second-most recent XKCD cartoon, titled "Purity." Math gets distilled among a wide variety of professions, though certainly remains present.

everydayjae said...

bleck...I write poetry.

I don't mean to bash on math.

I only mean to point out that if it takes THAT much explanation, and is that qualified, is still relevant to teach in high school? How could we make it more so?

4th grade teacher said...

Speaking towards math, just because you may not be using the Pythagorean Theorem, doesn't mean that A LOT of people don't. Baseball, flying, building, fitting things in a tight area are all activities which use the Pythagorean Theorem, though many people don't realize they are using it.

Although I do disagree with you on what is relevant, I do agree with you on teaching relevant ideas. We need to be teaching things in a way that makes them relevant. This is my problem with some teachers. It's not what they teach but how they are teaching it. I'm seeing a major shift in teaching though. More and more schools are shifting to a more constructivist teaching style. Maybe this is just because I teach elementary.

dkzody said...

I teach marketing, yearbook, and next year, multimedia. All classes that are relevant to my kids' life now and in the future. They even tell me, "this is stuff we can use."

Heidi said...

A major problem with the way most classrooms (and/or dare I say teachers) is that the focus becomes more on content than learning. If our end point is making sure that students leave our classrooms with a certain number of "relevant facts" in their toolbox, we've failed as educators. I agree, that some content may be irrelevant and our energies could be spent on more important pieces of information, content can only serve as the means by which students learn skills in how to be students of life, whether they choose to go on to be engineers, artists, or janitors.

I do not expect even half of the students who walk out of my classroom to go on to become artists, but through their experiences in the art room, they are gaining an understanding of ways of thinking that they may never engage in in any other place. Similarly, through perseverence in subjects that students may not find interesting or all that personally moving, they are still learning how to apply their minds and energies in various ways that will translate to what they do end up spending their life on, whether they ever realize it or not.

Perhaps if students were taught that the focus of classtime is what they take away as people, regardless of content, they may be more interested in coming. Furthermore, if students are taught that they are people worthy and capable of doing meaningful things with what they learn, they might gain of sense of personal ownership of their time in school.

Steve said...

Ok, while I do agree with you about several of your points, let me play devil's advocate.

If the current school model is wrong, what WOULD be better? Many of your alternatives are abstractions, which I totally agree with in theory, but when it comes time to apply them, people often find it much much harder than "just doing it".

No, I don't use the Pythagorean theorem at all in my job. But the logical processes that I learned in my math classes while solving equations have helped me troubleshoot problems in code, even when I don't understand the programming language. I can definitely trace things back to my high school classes.

And when I was growing up, I can certainly say that I did not know that I would need that stuff later on in life. Heck, I didn't even know what I wanted to do with my life until my 3rd year of college!

So what would be better? And how can we get that message out and get schools to implement it?