E-Seminar on “Mathematics Teaching and Learning”

In a previous post, I wrote about finding an E-Seminar from the NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics). A full list of available topics can be found here. One of them I mentioned before is called “Mathematics Teaching and Student Learning: What Does the Research Say?” Check out the description on their webpage. Today was our first day in my summer SMFT course. Since the students are all in-service math teachers I thought they would benefit from watching the seminar. I hope that they got something out of it, especially considering that it took up around 75-minutes of our limited class time. Here are the top three take-home messages I got from the re-watch:

  1. The idea that teaching is a cultural activity. In other words, we all learn how to teach in a process of cultural immersion during our school years. We get some ideas about what a classroom is “supposed” to look like, what a teacher is “supposed” to be doing during class, and what students are expected to do. Many educators are not taught effective teaching methods and it is easy to revert to teaching how we were taught instead of how we would like to teach (or, how the research says we ought to teach).
  2. The idea that effective teaching is learned. It is not an “innate talent” and it requires a lot of “hard, relentless work.” This is a freeing idea since it allows us to ask questions like, “How do I learn to become a better teacher?” and “What is effective teaching, anyway?”
  3. The idea that improving teaching is a process instead of a goal. Instead of focusing on a large (unattainable?) goal of becoming an effective teacher, instead we can aim for a concrete, step-by-step process of making tiny changes in our classrooms over a long period of time. The seminar suggests to begin “by designing a few lessons with great care” — maybe even just one or two — and after implementation, then gather evidence on the lesson’s effectiveness. A lot of important work should take place after the lesson is introduced when we can consider how to improve it next time.
With these things in mind, one of the major assignments in my SMFT course this summer is for my students to engage in this third item: They are each required to create two lessons for use in their own classrooms. Although they teach for hundreds of hours per year, by focusing a lot of energy and attention on just one or two lessons I hope that they begin to make those small changes. In the meantime, I hope to change the culture of our classroom and move away from being the “Lecturing Professor” character.