Faster Isn’t Smarter
Messages about Math, Teaching, and Learning in the 21st Century
Cathy L. Seeley
Past President, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM)
This book was recommended to me by some colleagues at a professional development last summer. It contains 41 messages for teachers, leaders, policy makers and families. Each message has a short passage with key facts and opinions and then a series of discussion questions for teachers, families and leaders and policy makers. Although the author’s largest intended audience is mathematics teachers I want to highlight and summarize three of them that I believe are meaningful for all of us and invite you explore the rest on your own.
Technology is a Tool
Technology is here to stay but the teacher is a key decision maker in deciding how to effectively use it in the classroom. It is our job to determine when to use technology and when not to. We need to teach students when they should do something in their head, when they should use pencil and paper and when to use technology. Did you catch that? It is important to understand that technology is not meant to replace using our brains or paper and pencil. Instead we should find ways to take advantage of these tools to enhance their learning. We must also acknowledge that there are going to be times when students know more, better or different ways to use a piece of technology than we do. We need to embrace this and not let it limit our use of technology in the classroom.
Faster Isn’t Smarter
It is a widespread belief that the faster you can answer a question the smarter you are. This belief has done much more harm than good for all of us. Students are perfectly willing to shout out an answer quickly in order to try to impress us or to look smart even if that answer turns out to be wrong. We would all be better served if we fight this behavior and encourage them to stop, think, write it down if necessary, and then be willing to share. Even with the basic facts of arithmetic for example, it is not the speed of producing the answer that makes a difference in the big picture, it is the accuracy. I am certain that we would all much prefer that our students know as many basic facts about our content as possible even if it takes a few extra seconds or minutes to process before they can state the fact or answer to a question.
No More Pilgrim Pie
I hope that we can all agree that our contents are connected or overlap in multiple ways. Unfortunately many of our students only see each of our classes as completely independent of each other. When we talk about scale factor, dilation and perspective drawing in geometry class even some of our more art and engineering students do not immediately make the connections or realize that they have already done this in your classes as well. It is truly remarkable sometimes when I see the light bulbs turn on only after I make the connection for them. Even though these concepts are the same, since I am teaching it today in geometry it must be new or different. So what do we do? Sometimes we are told to do more cross-curricular lessons and the results are not natural. I believe that this is more of an elementary and middle school thing but it is worth thinking about. We force it and create contrived scenarios to include math and science into the history lesson (or vice versa). Students recognize that we are forcing it and therefore it is even more difficult for them to make the real connections that naturally exist.