Phil Daro on Answer Getting

Watch this video of Phil Daro, who helped develop the Common Core. He is articulate and precise in his argument — there is a difference between doing and understanding. (Also, I just added the video to my Things That Inspire Me page, which is my favorite part of my blog).

Anyway, this difference is what I want to think about going into next year. I was guilty of it, over and over. My favorite example is the DRT triangle:
cover the letter you’re solving for and it reveals the expression needed to solve)

It got students to the correct answer but cut out any understanding or transferable knowledge. That’s getting cut next year, along with plenty more. Tine Cardone’s Nix the Tricks has plenty more examples, many of which I am guilty of. But most of all, when I began teaching I was guilty of looking for what students could do — what students could produce, replicate, imitate — but that isn’t mathematics. Students need to understand, and that understanding is often ugly, comes in many forms, in fits and starts, from “a-ha” moments and the endless struggle of learning mathematics.

I’m nervous about committing myself to this idea. Tomorrow is my last teaching day of my first year in the classroom, and it was fucking hard. I went home too many days exhausted and unable to move, and stayed late too many nights. I left too many classes feeling unsuccessful, knowing I had assigned homework they were unready for. Or thinking about the minutes that add up to hours I had spent managing students and cajoling them to focus on their classwork at the expense of hours spent pulling up a chair with students who were confused and needed my help. Or my consistently inconsistent ability to get students to listen — or my struggle believing that I had anything to say that was worth listening to. I found too many hooks, tasks, and activities too late, or executed them poorly in my mad scramble to plan a daily lesson. I regret  students I couldn’t reach — too many of whom students who can’t afford to to miss time in school. It’s over, and I’m happy to put it behind me.

I’m confident I can be a better teacher next year. I have a clearer vision of classroom expectations and routines; I have relationships with many of my future students already from seeing them in the hall and around school, I know my curriculum inside and out, and I have a hefty bag of teaching tricks that I either learned from failing with, or discovered too late and will add to my repertoire this year.

That said, the thing I’m most nervous about is pushing back on this idea of answer getting. My students are conditioned to it. They want to know the tricks to get to the answer, memorize them, and practice them so they can do it on the test next week or next month. I’m worried that if I go all in on understanding and conceptualization, I will undercut all of the growth I’ve made this year, and set myself up for another tough year. I want to push my teaching to the next level, but I’m also tempted by the easy way out, through answer getting and strategies — they’re easier to manage and get better short-term results. I know it’s wrong, but I also know that I want to be a career teacher and I don’t know how I will handle a year like this one.

But I’m going to do it. Here’s to understanding. I didn’t think I would need to say this after a year of teaching, but let’s do it. Last thing to do: Day 2 of Barbie Bungee tomorrow! Let’s see who designed the best bungee jump!

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