In the real world

#MTBoS 30 – Day 27

Tonight, I found myself thinking about some of the courses taught at my school.  I want to find ways to make them more engaging for students, more of the time.  My mind has continued to return to more student choice in the course they take (so not everyone is taking “Precalculus”, but instead choosing to study a particular flavor of the course).  As much as I like this idea, as a former scheduler, I’m already overwhelmed by the logistics of adding some more restrictions into a junior’s schedule.  I also recognize that the course still remains very fixed, with a constant curriculum that does not adjust to the students in the room.

So, my new thought for today is that the title “Precalculus” can be fine; in fact, we can likely take advantage of an opportunity to avoid changing the name of the course.  Instead, we could work on changing the lived experience.  Can we incorporate some more “real world” aspects? This was on my mind as I hopping on Twitter tonight and happened upon an old Dan Meyer post about Real Work v. Real World.  His ideas were intriguing, as usual, but it was actually a comment from someone else (DG Reid) that resonated with me even more:  “The question isn’t just: Is the problem real? What engages students is: Does the answer provide useful information?”

At the same time, I have another colleague who is having the amazing experience, for the first time in 33 years of teaching, of seeing how much joy comes out of a project where the students were able to choose what they wanted to study.  It is the combination of all of these ideas that pulls me in.  How can I work with my amazing department to help put some of these ideas into action?  What opportunities are we missing?  What could we reframe?

The last idea in my mind comes from my youngest colleague, who is in her first year as a fellow, having just graduated from college.  She asserted recently that because we create many of our materials for class, the students are expecting all information to come to them in a neatly packaged form, ready for use.  They don’t know what to do when confronted with novel, open-ended situations because we have unintentionally led them to expect clarity and brevity.  For our students to engage fully (which they really want to do – we are so fortunate!), we need to let them start asking the questions, and guide them forward when they need it.

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