Saturday, 26 April 2014

Jump Start

Living in Montreal, the winters can be particularly cold. Especially January and early February, frosty mornings when the snow has that squeaky kind of crunch when you walk on it, and car doors and windows are frozen shut, and oh so dark... sometimes it's God's will whether or not your car's engine will start.

Probably half of male car owners possess a set of jumper cables in their trunk. You use them to connect the batteries of a car that is running to give a boost to another car's battery whose engine won't start, weakly turning over or sometimes reduced to that little click of the starting motor refusing to live up to its name. After revving the engine of the healthy car to raise the voltage, the transfusion of electricity usually brings the ailing car to life, ready to face the frozen day. Handshakes or hugs, reminders to keep the engine revving high to recharge the battery...

So, you may ask, what does this have to do with anything, except for retreating to Florida in winter?

When I was observing a neophyte teacher yesterday, I got a taste of the value of that jump start in teaching. I was an old dog watching the new tricks of this naive, energetic teacher. He was introducing the topic of surface area, by having the students "think, pair, share, jigsaw, brainstorm and report back". So ambitious... a good thing I didn't tell him he'd be wasting his time and energy thinking this could lead to any meaningful preparation for testing on the topic.

They had their flimsy nets of prisms, cones, pyramids and cylinders, and were discussing in groups about similarities and differences in their same categories of solids, and then in mixed groups, then they had to return to their original groups and invent their own definition of their category of solids. Definition, description, classification, characteristics... they don't know the difference, coming just short of zodiacal sign or sexual orientation of  their shapes. Chaotic generalizations and inefficient methods for imparting knowledge.

But at the end of that class, they were walking out of the room excitedly talking about how "their" solids were better, a couple of "what ifs", and curiosity about where spheres or dodecahedra would fit in.

No, it wasn't teaching, evaluating, or reviewing... but it definitely was learning. It took up a full one-hour class. Is the payoff going to be faster learning? I hope? Will it result in deeper learning?  Definitely. But how do we make that show up in our evaluations? And (old dog thinking) haw are we going to cover the whole curriculum?

I need to take the energy from that jump-start, and transfuse it into my teaching - I mean their learning.

Yes it's a cliche, but fits in with the car analogy... I need to embrace the journey, and not just the destination.

...It's been a long cold wearing winter.  Oh April where is thy sting?