Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Problems Worth Solving

First, I'd like to shout out Mr. Bingea for his recent blog post that has encouraged me to write my second post in two weeks. (I do still have that post on goals in draft form percolating..)

I recently printed Dylan Kane's math elevator speech for my classroom. I bolded certain phrases, and increased the font size of the last phrase "these are problems worth solving."

Today I am struck by that in the wake of the Orlando shooting. Am I truly presenting my students with problems worth solving? How do I teach tolerance in my math class? How do we truly build community and collaboration among our young people? The kind of community that lasts after their four years of high school have passed, and makes them true citizens of the world.

I'm embarrassed to say I usually view those - community, collaboration - as tools to achieve math mastery. Has my view been so myopic? What's the point of learning math in a world where a life can end in a moment, too soon, because someone legally purchased a gun?

I teach math because math gave me confidence I didn't know I had before. I came back around to it as an adult. Can I move my students not just to love math.. but love themselves and love each other? Does one person even have this power? In the course of a one year Algebra class...

I work at a great school with a strong team of adults.. even together.. what can be done?

I have to believe that I am one of Helen Keller's "honest workers" when she said, "The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of tiny pushes of each honest worker." If I didn't, I wouldn't get out of bed in the morning.

In my four years of teaching, there have been more shootings than I can count from memory, not to mention other tragedies stemming from abuse of power and exploitation of marginalized communities. I've grieved and picked myself up each time. What will I do to change the world -- if not start by changing myself?

I know this sounds aggrandizing. I was once swiftly shut down by a career advisor who started our conversation by saying "What do you want to do with your life, and don't tell me 'I want to change the world'." Maybe I have that power, but likely.. I don't. Regardless, I don't want to be idle.

I may not be able to change the world, but I can change myself. I can change my teaching practice to to to instill a lasting sense of community.  Though it sounds obvious, I can't ignore the world outside my classroom.

Problems worth solving. How many letters and emails to congress does it take to make changes to gun legislation? What is the exponential growth of our impact ? How do I teach students to understand the significance of the statistics surrounding the US incarceration rates?

I know last year at NCTM I attended a presentation on other math teachers engaged in this work. Now to re-discover their blogs and resources..


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