Saturday, October 15, 2011

"We're Only Students"

"We're Only Students" was as comment I heard from one of my students about a week ago. I was asking my class to do something that was a little challenging and out of frustration and a little in jest this was her comment. I almost went into the traditional 'It's not that hard once you get down to it' speech, but I paused for a second and thought to myself that the comment needed a little more attention.  I'm not sure if I paused because I was offended by the comment or I thought my students should be offended or because I thought they needed to think better of themselves. Certainly, had I made a comment along the lines of "You won't get this. You're only students", I can almost guarantee I would have faced a backlash.

My response to the class was essentially the 'don't sell yourself short approach'. You're not ONLY students. You ARE students. You have endless opportunities ahead of you. We talked about how they were the future leaders of governments, corporations, industries, etc. We talked about competition and how in the not too distant future they would be competing for spots at universities and/or jobs and how they can't just settle for good enough. I mentioned that if they wanted to be as successful as they could they needed to work as hard as they could starting now. They needed to seek out challenges rather than trying to avoid them. We also talked about pursuing their passions. My message was if they didn't start now someone else was already getting a leg up.

In any case it turned out to be a ten minute discussion, which was much longer than I had anticipated. One of the comments I overheard was "Wow, a motivational talk in math. Who would have thought". I guess some of them took the message to heart though I'm sure some of them saw this as just a ten minute break. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Frustration of Learning

Recently I needed to replace the shingles on my roof. I decided to go with a steel roof instead of shingles, figuring I could do the work and save on the labour costs. I had been told by many people that putting up steel was easy and it didn't take long. This confirmed my original thought and I ordered the materials.

Now I should mention that I'm much more comfortable, and competent at, pounding a keyboard to move bits than pounding in nails with a hammer. I began by stripping the old shingles, fixing the bad spots in the roof and strapping it. This process alone had taken a lot longer than what most people said it should take to do the entire roof. I was feeling a little discouraged but I was determined to do the work properly and later discovered that most of the people I had spoken with had much simpler roofs than mine.

As I worked I learned a lot about roofing and a lot about myself. I think my best learning came from making mistakes. Doesn't all learning happen from making mistakes? I would make a mistake and then get really frustrated about it. This didn't help much since as I became frustrated I was more likely to make more mistakes. I recognized that many of my students likely get stuck in this cycle. Most of my frustration came from the fact that I was being slowed down. I just wanted to get the job done. I'm guessing that students are often in the same boat. They don't really care about the learning they just want to get the job, work, assignment, etc. done. After a while I realized that my frustration was counter productive. I decided that it would be much more productive to view my mistakes as learning opportunities. This small shift in mindset changed my entire outlook. No longer was this a project that had to be completed in a hurry. It was a project that I was going to do right and one that I could take pride in.

I think that frustration is an important part of learning. I need to let my students know that, and I need to work to ensure that they know it's a natural part of learning. I need to encourage them to work past the frustration to get to the reward side. I have a feeling that if they can get to the reward side once, getting there again will be easier.