Sunday, September 25, 2016

Teachers vs Technology

We live in a crazy world. We live in a world where we have forgotten how to speak; where we have forgotten the importance of face-to-face conversations; a world where people of all ages 'hang out' by sitting together and staring at their phones. We live in a world that encourages greed for what we don't have, rather than thankfulness for what we do. We live in a world that wants the next best thing; a world that obtains excitement from material things rather than moments experienced. We live in a world driven by technology; a world that has become increasingly advanced in those regards, and a world that in my opinion, is falling in a somewhat uncontrollable manner towards not knowing how to communicate without it [technology] at all.

The summer before I started college, I was asked a countless amount of times what I planned on doing with my life; what I wanted to major in, what I wanted to be, etc. I had no doubt in my mind that I wanted to be a teacher, but every time I told someone this, I received an incredible amount of skeptical remarks. While a lot of these remarks have stuck in my head since then, some of the ones that stick out the most are ones that regarded technology. I was told that teachers weren't going to be needed eventually because of all the technological advances. I was told that it was pointless for me to become a teacher, because by the time I graduated there wouldn't be anywhere for me to go. For me, these reasons only made me want to be a teacher even more. It is so frustrating to me that our world is being controlled by technology, but even more than that, I can't wrap my head around why we are allowing technology to overtake our schools as well. And that is something I want to change as a teacher.

As I am going into my teaching career, it has become even more apparent to me that our world is caught up in the so called excitement of having and using new technology. I do believe that technology can be helpful in some instances, but I also believe without a doubt that it is more distracting than helpful. This is evident not only in our everyday lives, but also in that of our schools and the way we, as teachers, are choosing to teach our students each year.

I know it could be argued that not all school systems want technology to take over completely, but as technology continues to advance, it seems as though it's simply the easier thing to do. People, especially teenagers, are so obsessed with technology already, that it just seems wrong to include it in the 7-8 hours they're at school as well. As a part of the class I am currently in, we have explored a few options of online math sites that teachers can use to help teach a lesson. One of these is called Desmos, which allows a teacher to select one of several different games that will help students explore concepts further and will test each students' understanding of those concepts. While exploring this site, I have come across some activities that may be helpful in obtaining a general assessment of student learning or may be useful in introducing a topic before jumping in. In this way, I can understand how making use of this site could provide a chance for students to experience learning in yet another way and allow for them to have fun doing so. However, I strongly believe that this should be the extent of allowing technology in a classroom.

Just in the past few years, school systems have begun incorporating the use of more technology in their classrooms. In my opinion, this is more work than it's worth and simply gives students access to yet another distraction. I mentioned in my last blog post that I think it is a key goal for teachers to engage their students and make them excited to learn. However, the use of technology in the classroom, while it may make students excited, gets in the way of true learning. True learning incorporates hands-on activities for our students, encouraging them to put action into their learning, and helping them to try different things in an effort to help them feel engaged. Although I don't feel that using technology to implement these things is any different than reading out of a text book, I would say that using a small amount of technology in the classroom to introduce a unit, or to find out how well students are learning material is acceptable if a teacher really desires to do so.

These ideas are only one person's opinions, and no one has to agree with them, but because of this topic's importance to me, I still want to ask a few questions to end my post. Isn't it our job, as teachers, to prepare students for the real world; to teach them about the essentials in living an adult life? It has been explained to me, that it is a part of a teacher's responsibility to educate students for three major dimensions of life: as individual persons, as citizens in a democracy, and as participants in economic life who must earn a living. As it stands, are teachers helping with this? Is technology helping to achieve this? More and more students are experiencing social anxieties when asked to participate in a face-to-face conversation, but are completely fine when communicating via technology. As teachers, we are educating the future educators of the world, the future lawyers, the future doctors, the future president. This is our job; would it be so hard to educate without using technology? We live in a beautiful world, one that was created for us to experience both in and out of the classroom. It would be a shame to watch it pass by without partaking in the grand adventures it provides.

In any case, I am a math teacher in the making, a fellow math nerd, and these are just some of my thoughts. Thanks for reading.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Problem With Math Class (As Told by a Future Math Teacher)

One week ago, something started. Something that many students dread. Something that students refuse to acknowledge, because it means the end of summer and the beginning of countless loads of homework that most students neither care about nor understand. It means the beginning of hearing "What did you learn today?" from your parents and replying with an "I don't know" or a "Nothing" every time. It means dragging yourself out of bed at an ungodly hour and forcing yourself to make that awful drive, after eating a half-hearted breakfast. It means the beginning of school.

Here's the thing: School isn't supposed to be a place where students sit for 7 hours a day and get bored out of their minds. School isn't supposed to be a place that causes students to struggle to complete homework for hours per night, because they don't understand what was taught. School isn't supposed to be a place that students go to, just because it's required. But it is. For a time, I myself felt this way about school as well. It only takes so much time of sitting in class, taking notes off a whiteboard, before that feeling of "go with the flow" boredom sets in for the rest of the school year. I've watched friends do the minimum amount of work required to get through high school, and now I watch and listen as the next generation does the same thing. This problem, although prevalent in all aspects of schooling, is particularly an issue in regards to math classes. It's not to say that there is something wrong with these students, but I will say that maybe, just maybe, there is something wrong with the style of teaching of our textbooks.

As a current education student at Grand Valley, I have found myself in many different 'teaching' classes. In the one I am taking this semester, we watched a short video titled, "Math Class Needs a Makeover". This video talks about 5 symptoms that show math is being taught incorrectly. You can view all five of these in the video posted at the bottom of this page, but I only want to talk about two of them. Two of the symptoms mentioned, 'lack of initiative' and lack of retention' are two issues I strongly believe to be very present in math classes. Students can be incredibly hard to engage when teaching, but it isn't necessarily because of something they are doing wrong. When math is being poorly taught, or when a student's learning style isn't being met, it makes it difficult for students to find that desire to listen and to learn. It makes their understanding of each concept sometimes impossible to grasp, silently encouraging them to give up on trying. In a similar manner, when students don't understand a concept, it makes it that much harder for them to retain any information regarding that concept. At times, even if a student understands the general idea of a particular concept, if the math is being poorly taught, a lack of retention can occur as well. Because of these two issues, I feel it is important to find alternate routes to using 'typical' teaching methods.

One thing I have learned while being in education classes, is that not every student learns the same way, and not every student is starting the year with the same knowledge. It is important to enter a school year knowing that you should meet each one of your students where they are at, not where you expect them to be. This is important to keep in mind not just at the beginning of a school year, but all the way through. I think it's easy for us, as teachers, to get caught up in the schedule we have in our mind. We don't want to have to change how many days a unit lasts, or how long it takes to cover one concept per class period. My thought is this: if your students need more time to gain full understanding of a unit, let it happen! Our job is to ensure that each student can go home feeling confident in what they learned; timing doesn't matter.

The second thing I have learned while being in education classes, is that making use of the world around us provides so much more room for learning. As is stated in the "Math Class Needs a Makeover" video, often times teachers use the method of teaching out of the book. This is the typical way of teaching, but for students, book learning is simply a lot of memorization of things that they will forget just as quickly as they learn them. We need to turn memorization into remembering. Instead of staring at a book, we need to encourage action in learning. If you're curious as to specifics, there is more information again, in the video below. It is my belief, that in making use of real life situations, teachers can incorporate multiple learning styles, effectively reaching out to each student's needs.

All in all, I think that math class does need a makeover; maybe not in all situations, but generally speaking, I could go for a change. There is so much more I could say about this topic, but for now I think I've written enough. To conclude, I want to mention that I am in no way trying to throw math teachers under the bus. I have had many amazing math teachers who worked hard to make sure classes were taught well and made fun for their students, successfully reaching out to each student to ensure initiative and retention. I think that's the key; working to make use of other resources and not simply requiring students to understand book problems without extra activities. Help your students want to be engaged, help your students feel excited to learn something new. The world is at our fingertips, why not make use of it.

In any case, I am a math teacher in the making, a fellow math nerd, and these are just some of my thoughts. Thanks for reading.