Why not try on new shoes, like those of your student

by Sorcha Moran, Numeracy tutor and trainer with Mayo Sligo Leitrim ETB

Ever find that when you get a new pair of shoes that you feel revived, refreshed, and can take on the world again with a pep in your step? Well, my challenge to you today, is to try on new shoes - those of your student!

We are all experts at what we teach, so we are already at the stage that we can do things by using shortcuts and using the ʻrulesʼ. I use ʻrulesʼ in this way because I am a maths teacher and I donʼt like the fact that we use this term in maths. A rule is something someone makes up so that they can keep things in order, like “no food or drink in the computer room”. ʻRulesʼ in maths are not made up, they are just shortcuts that always work. If we start our teaching with the ʻrulesʼ we are missing a whole chunk of basic understanding, and our students need to struggle on trying to remember these ʻrulesʼ and how to use them, instead of understanding the core concepts that the rule came from in the first place. For example, Pythagoras - the ʻruleʼ a2 = b2 + c2. Did Pythagoras wake up one morning and decide that today he was going to make a new rule? From today on a2 = b2 + c2! No, this came about through discovery.

Lets take a minute to think about how we learn. We ALL learn, understand and remember by linking the new information to what we already know. This is the key thing to remember when developing your class work. Does each particular student already have the facts, skills, and understanding clear in their heads to allow them to efficiently learn what you are trying to teach? If not, they may learn off how to use this new skill, but they will inevitably run in to problems again when trying to deal with this topic at a more complicated level.

I encourage you, when you are creating your next lesson plan, to go back to the basics. I mean, right back to the beginning. If they are finding fractions difficult, do they fully understand what a fraction actually is other than how it looks?? Why do we even have fractions??? Allow them to build the jigsaw piece by piece and make all those connections that are so important. Let them learn through discovery rather than being told what to do.

In algebra, I use the concept of a scales. Dice represent known values, and counters represent the unknowns. They learn through trial-and-error and discovery by physically working with the concept. They learn, through discovery (not because I told them), that they can make life easier for themselves to figure out the unknown by removing counters from both sides. I have someone who can work algebra - Eureka!!!

So, again, my challenge to you...take a step out of your own shoes. Forget all the knowledge you have built up. Place yourself in your studentʼs space and discover these facts afresh one by one. Feel the self-confidence grow as you discover more and more, and get that pep in your step as you start to link all this new knowledge together. Feel confident to tackle more difficult problems. Feel the joy of learning!