My thoughts have been wandering back to math class lately. I missed it and given the current health concerns surrounding schools reopening, I may not get it back anytime soon. (At least in the form in which I feel most comfortable). Perhaps it is the pendulum between anticipation and fear that has recently been the focus of my consciousness on teaching and learning. While this is not unusual for me, as they say, absence makes the heart beat faster. It is therefore possible that this post will mark my ultimate descent into pandemic-induced psychosis. Perhaps this tense analogy symbolizes how much I need the classroom back and serves as a kind of Warshak test – math classroom style – where ink stains after ink stains from everyday experiences suddenly contain latent lessons about math class. Maybe it’s just a way to air out my dirty laundry and just keep some thoughts from rattling around in my skull by writing them down. Now that I’ve submitted the discussion on my sanity for the time being, here is a brief story about my Saturday afternoon.
Our washing machine was broken for a week. As with any dutiful husband, my first reaction was to let the violent beating do its own thing, hoping that the problem would pop up in the laundry, so to speak. Today we (my wife and I) finally got involved in the task and it was over in less than 30 minutes. That is, it would have been over if it hadn’t been looked after by an obsessive educator. After we finished there was a moment of relief and achievement, but it was quickly replaced by a curiosity. How was it that two people who really had no experience repairing washing machines could control the task?
At first I really only knew three things:
- The experience was rewarding. Not just the resolution of the task, but the entire process of solving it.
- We really didn’t have a blueprint to approach the task and that made it more interesting.
- This is how I want students to feel when doing math in my classroom.
After thinking about what could have made this typically mundane task of its pedagogical power possible, especially through the process, I came to the following result:
- We started with handicrafts. We moved the drum with our hands and tried to reproduce the sound. We rocked the machine to see if it was unstable. We checked to see if any bolts or screws were loose or if part of the shell could be pulled apart. All the “aimless” handicrafts to get a feel for what we might be dealing with.
- We only stuck to plans while they were useful. Since there was a recipe to fix the problem, our tinkering made plans. We felt something hard under the rubber seal and pried it away, only to find it was an electrical connection. This was immediately dismissed as irrelevant to our problem and we looked elsewhere. No questions asked. No catastrophic meltdown; no immediate need for help. Soon we noticed some markings on a piece of plastic near the front, and once it was tightened the bolt that held it securely in place quickly slipped out of its socket. A new, useful plan emerged.
- We focused on the good. After isolating the problem, we found that the plastic washer that previously held the bolt in place was nowhere to be found. We found a replacement washing machine made from a jar filled with mismatched hardware and installed. It wasn’t the exact part, but it did the same function adequately – it was good enough.
Perhaps this is the pandemic, but I can’t get rid of the feeling that the same three traits I learned from my washing machine are key traits of strong math experience – both inside and outside of math class.
Note: We are not the author of this content. For the Authentic and complete version,
Check its Original Source