I made another mistake: missing out on inquiry and authenticity

I’m teaching MDM4U (Data Management) this semester and we’re starting to talk about probability. We’ve spent the last few weeks learning a bunch of counting techniques (permutations, anyone?) and soon we’ll be applying those techniques in this new context.

But I’m concerned about how teacher-directed everything has become, and how comfortable my students seem to be with that mode. When does their curiosity take control of our journey? How will their interests drive our learning?

On the first day of the probability section I was speaking with the entire class about the sorts of probabilities they would be familiar with: chance of rain, poker, winning a football game, etc. One student asked, “What are the chances of winning the lottery?”

And I made a big mistake.

I told him, “We’re going to look at that when we have a few more tools to work with.”

I should have said, “Let’s try to figure that out. Now.”

His curiosity would certainly have driven him and other students to pursue an answer to that question. No, they don’t necessarily have the skills to answer that yet (some would), but I also don’t need to teach a bunch of lessons before they can start.

I should have encouraged him to frame that question mathematically, identify the information that would be needed to solve it, and begin to do so.

Instead I put him off and went on with my boring talk about rolling dice and flipping coins. I missed a great opportunity for authentic learning in favour of simple, canned questions.

So, my deepest apologies to that young man and to the rest of the class. Tomorrow, I fix it. Tomorrow, you will decide what you want to learn, and then you’ll learn it, and I’ll be there to coach you along the way.

Mistakes I made with a new BLT (Blended Learning Teacher)

What’s the right way to approach a new BLT (Blended Learning Teacher)?

I recently worked with one, and I made some mistakes. Big mistakes. Learn from my errors.

I didn’t look carefully at the content

There were some technical issues with the provided content. I hadn’t looked at that grade/course in a while, but they were issues I knew (and had forgotten) about. First thing we looked at together: nothing. Next thing: broken. Oops. I might have overpromised a little here.

I assumed I knew what they wanted

I thought I knew where the needs were, based on my knowledge of the school, the teacher, the students… but I was wrong. And you know what’s worse? I didn’t listen carefully when the teacher explained what they were hoping for, and I jumped into what I thought they needed. Bad move.

I showed a bazillion examples for inspiration

This stuff is exciting to me, so I want everyone to see all the possibilities. I knew I should ask more questions, refine the boundaries of what we were trying to do, but I didn’t. I thought, “I’ll show a few examples of what other people have done; something will look interesting to this teacher.” Nope; it just looked scary. Too many options, many of them too far from the teacher’s goals. I knew better.

Next time

If the teacher contacts me again (I hope they do), we’re going to have a softer start. I need to give people time to think about these things; I’ve had years of thinking, conversations, practice,….

And next time I’ll listen more than I talk.