Whole Math Teacher Blog

All teaching is affected by what is going on inside the teacher’s mind and body and by what is going on in the rest of the world that forms the context in which the teaching takes place. Here I share some thoughts and feelings.

Competency-Based Education: Pythagoras and the Lez-umé

Last week I read an excerpt in the Boston Globe from the blog post, “How to Improve Boston Public Schools,” by Nicholas C. Donohue, president of the Nellie Mae Educational foundation.  The post focused on four items – increasing expectations, advancing students based on their mastery of skills, endorsing learning anywhere, and student-centered learning.   Later on, thinking about the post, I was reminded of the “lez-umé,” a concept my friends and I came up with in the 1980’s, when we were in our twenties.


Planning vs. Not Planning

As I write, my partner is most of the way across the country helping care for her mother, who is gravely ill; a week ago someone from hospice said she had a week or two to live.  My partner’s daughter is due at college in a week.  My classes start in two weeks, and the Jewish holidays are very early this year; I will miss the first day of one of my classes no matter what.

Let’s go with understatement and say that this is not a typical way to start a semester.


Prestige, Measurement, and What’s Left Out that Matters

Fifth in a Series.  First one is here.

When I was at MIT, it seemed like hardly anyone there was interested in teaching.  My advisor told me that mathematicians viewed teaching as akin to golf: an unrelated side-interest.  The teaching award was known as the “kiss of death,” because faculty who got it did not get tenure.  Graduate students who showed too much interest in teaching were presumed not sufficiently serious about research.

But with MOOCs, MIT and its peers Harvard, Stanford, and the like, are now interested in education, and due to their prestige, are the presumed leaders.  A bit after I enrolled in the physics MOOC from MIT there was an article about MOOCs in the Boston Globe that discussed the course, and where another MIT instructor talked about how from MOOC data he learned that students often start the problems before they watch lectures, which gave him the idea to sometimes intentionally start with problems, something that many of us (including some in the dreaded ed schools) have known for years (and some of us skip lecturing almost entirely).


Summer MOOCs 4: How I Decided I Didn’t Like Programming

Fourth in a series.  First one is here.

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about how the Creative Programming MOOC helped me realize that I really like programming.  To my students, colleagues, and others in my life, this revelation must come as “kind of a duh” (a favorite student phrase from several years ago), as I am the math faculty member who uses computers the most and who is often fiddling with something software-related.

The story I tell myself has been different, however.   Like many stories we tell ourselves, it’s one constructed to avoid pain.   As I start to write today, I am not sure I will be able to keep up my promise of posting something that I write this day, as I feel fear in my gut and grief in my chest, and my instincts to protect myself and keep quiet compete with my desire to share.


Summer MOOCs 3: Creative Programming

Third in a series.  First is here.

My second MOOC, Creative Programming for Digital Media and Mobile Apps, started about a week after the Mechanics ReView MOOC, and at first it seemed a joke in comparison. There were about eight videos to watch, totaling about an hour and a half, with two extras for people new to programming.  In the videos, the camera sometimes focused on a person talking about what he was typing on screen, but didn’t show the screen.  The software had been updated two days before the class started and after the videos were shot, so some instructions and visuals were no longer correct.


Summer MOOCs 2: Mechanics ReView

Second in a series.   First is here.

The first MOOC I started, Mechanics ReView, was originally developed at MIT as a short three week course for students who didn’t do well in their regular introductory Newtonian Mechanics Course (generally the first college physics course).  The instructors devised a method to teach physics problems solving, which they said was proven to work, based on the student improvement in the on campus course and grades in subsequent physics courses.   The online course was ten weeks, with eight required units and an optional three more units, and an expectation of about ten hours per week of work.


MOOCs and Bodies

Note:  I have many more ideas for writings about education than I actually ever complete or share, due to my inclination to make everything part of a bigger and bigger picture, as well as my perfectionism.  I am experimenting in the next three weeks with writing a post every weekday in less than an hour to force myself to put ideas out there, learn to write smaller things, and to see if I like this medium.   Friendly feedback (including disagreement) is welcome and appreciated.


This summer I signed up for two MOOCs – “Massive Open Online Courses.”  I signed up partly out of curiosity and partly out of fear: curious to see what this purported revolution in education was like up close and hopeful that I might get some ideas for using online resources in my own courses, but also afraid of a vision where one superstar “teaches” 100,000 students at once online, and a whole lot of other folks lose their jobs.


Responsible People Don’t Get Sick

When someone shares a syllabus with me, it’s usually to show me the course content, not the attendance policy, but these days I also think about the message the syllabus sends to students with chronic illnesses or medical crises.

That message is often, “Responsible people don’t get sick.”

When the syllabus says 100% attendance is expected or that after X absences students should drop the class, I ask instructors what happens when students have chronic illness or medical crises, and most make exceptions on a case-by-case basis.   They deal with such students compassionately and reasonably, but not according to what the syllabus says.


No Sitting, Minimal Bending, Mostly Bed Rest: How I Coped

Last year I had surgery that resulted in unfortunately placed stitches; in order to avoid tearing them, I couldn’t sit or bend at the waist (and for the first two weeks, I couldn’t shower and had to minimize standing and walking). The initial time frame for my recovery was four to six weeks, but for reasons that are not well understood (but are likely related to my autoimmune disorder and years of being sick), my healing was very slow, and I ended up being mostly on bed rest for three months, with another two months of transition time before I was ready to go back to living alone.


Teaching with a Chronic Illness

Last semester, I taught my first two classes wearing sunglasses and a baseball hat tilted to cover half my face, with the lights turned off. The students thought I looked cool. Read more >>