Reflections of a progressive High School Math Teacher
Sunday, June 22, 2014
I pledge to not allow "Pump & Dump" - You should too
So I was doing some reading on education and ran across an article on terrible learning habits (3 Terrible Learning Habits You Probably Picked Up In School) and it discussed 3 ways that are poor ways to learn new concepts. It discussed re-reading, cramming and catering to your "learning style." Instead of arguing about if they are or are not "good" I found myself really thinking about why these methods are prevalent. Why are students just rote memorizing, dotting i's and crossing t's, not really learning and understanding.
Because students do what is required. They are trying to survive and when educators allow ways for students to "get-by" without learning material but simply by regurgitating it - that is what they typically do. And it is not the student's fault, but the teachers'. And the simple fact is many educators feel that is the job of teaching - making drones able to spew facts with no idea of what they mean or how to use them. Because it is not what you say as teacher, but what your students can do.
I often talk about how when I was a student that I simply cleared the bar, as a young man I did whatever the minimum required was to make the grade. I was not interested in knowledge or being prepared for the world, I was interested in just completing the course and moving on.
When teachers raised the bar, I raised my performance. If I was allowed to memorize - I did - which I now affectionately call "Pump & Dump." And I talk often about the fact that we do not "Pump & Dump" in my room, we study, learn and use. We do not turn math into 4,000 rules to memorize but talk the language of math and its interconnections. We do not use it once and forget it, but have recursive practice on all math concepts they have learned.
We do projects, write and struggle - not as much as I want, but it is part of what we do where I teach.
I often joke there needs to be changes on how we teach and our expectations, that I work for the student; the 27 year old student not the 15 year old student in my room now. And that I just talked to the student's future self and they want me to be tougher, to make them into tenacious problem solvers.
I also joke that we are learning how to learn and problem solve, not memorize math. Actually there are only a couple of rules in math -- all expressions must remain equivalent and that all equations need balance. That's it. So when I hear of students memorizing rules and formulas I wonder what bar they are hopping over, and how high is it? Are they better problem solvers because of it?
Unfortunately hopping over the bar sometimes makes them better students -- but rarely better problem solvers.