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Epic Teaching Fail

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Jul. 18th, 2012 | 09:55 pm
mood: contemplativecontemplative

(Section 4.4-6.3)

Yes, well. The last week has been a bit of a write-off, as far as anything other than bare minimum teaching goes: the temperature has been in the high 30s-40s, without getting cooler at night, and I've just not been coping (and neither has my aircon). Even the aircon in the classroom has battled, and I noticed that everyone has been grumpy and lethargic (on Monday I had a couple of girls beg me to let them present sitting down, rather than standing in front of the board). Today when it was cooler, suddenly there was much more enthusiasm. I've kept meaning to update this blog, but it's been too hot to sit in my study, and now I'm just going to abandon the last week and move on.

So yesterday I made a fairly epic teaching fail. It was the day we talked about Pythagoras's Theorem, so beforehand I found 4 different proofs. One of them is similar to Euclid's original proof, but only uses areas of triangles, which we covered on Monday. I was very excited, because I thought is was a sweet proof, and so appropriate. So I wrote down The Theorem, and launched excitedly into the proof, and it was only after about 10 minutes of me talking, and them saying 'What?', that I realised I hadn't drawn The Diagram that was necessary to make the proof even vaguely comprehensible. Basically, I'd just written down a^2+b^2=c^2, without explaining that it's actually a theorem about the areas of squares, even though it talks about side lengths. Wow, I felt stupid. I could feel that the class was grumpy and losing focus, so I cut my losses. I'd put together a worksheet with 3 other proofs, and I got them to work in groups and then present each proof; that was better, but there were still dirty looks coming my way at the end of the class.

I was chatting to some friends last night about the teaching fail, and one of them said 'Well, clearly that was an awesome teaching moment! You could've said "And now you know how not to teach this section!"'. I thought about that for a bit, and this morning I started the class by saying 'Ok, let's talk about my teaching fail yesterday. What did I do wrong? How could I have avoided it? How would you teach that section' etc. A pretty good discussion ensued, so at least it wasn't a complete waste. But I'm sad they didn't get to see the loveliness of the proof.

I think there was also something else going on yesterday that alienated the class. I'm usually pretty careful not to project 'math geek' when I teach; I make sure that I tell them about things I struggle with, and I work really hard to never just look at a problem and solve it immediately (even when I can). I alway talk through my thought process, so that they never have to deal with some annoying lecturer who just magically knows the answer. But I was so enthusiastic about the proof that I forgot to do that, and also I wasn't aware early enough that I'd lost them. So they got to see me in full 'math geek' mode, which I'm guessing is pretty alienating. Today I slowed right down, and even made the two math whizzes in the class talk through their thought processes in detail when they were answering questions, and the vibe overall was completely different. That in combination with the starting discussion made me realise that a good addition to this course could be getting the students to critique how I present stuff, and discuss how to make it better. Scary thought!

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