Convinced at 34,000 feet

planeConference excitement starts as early as the plane ride. It is always fun to stand in the boarding line or sit next to a fellow math geek on their way to (or from) a national math conference. On one plane, a gentleman and his young son sat between a fellow NCSM traveler and me. His son told us he was four AND A HALF so naturally the two math geek bookends brought up fractions. As the plane left the gate and headed towards the runway, we acknowledged this was going to be a very long flight for the dad. He admitted before take off that he was good at math in school but didn’t get any enjoyment out of it. Stories and books were his passion. He struggled more in those classes, but loved it. He apologized for admitting it, but I told him not to. The conference had many sessions on growth mindset and challenging students with productive struggle. He was a classic case of a student who enjoyed the struggle in learning and pursed what filled that need for stepping up to a challenge. He seemed genuinely intrigued, but by that time we were taking off. The son was so excited; I thought we would fly on his enthusiasm alone. Take off is also the point where all conversation stops for me until the plane levels back out. On the other hand, I love the final decent into the airport, probably because I like the idea of being closer to the ground.

The dad did have one favorite moment in math. It was in his Geometry class. They were doing proofs and he had to show the class his work. He wrote the first line on the board and the teacher said, “You will never get there from here.” He said that he internally took up that challenge with a silent “watch me” and completed his proof, showing the teacher a different way than he or she was expecting. He was proud, and rightfully so, to have blazed a new trail, so to speak. He was grinning the whole time he told the story.

He made me wonder, how many students do we lose because we don’t provide the challenges? We don’t let them cut their own path instead of following the beaten, paved road. I am not saying this is the best for all students, or all situations. There are definitely students who need more road signs. On the other hand, for many students, interest and ownership comes from students finding their own way, even if it is parallel to the tried and true “easy” way.

This conversation has stuck with me since last week, even after his “Texan transplanted to Connecticut” hook em horns comment that earned him the appropriate glare, and was reinforced this morning when someone tweeted the blog post about Skilled Learners vs. Good Students. Definitely worth reading and thinking about.

This interaction solidified the two phrases that have tweaked the lens I view learning and teaching from. “Convince Me” by Steve Leinwand and “SlowMath” by Jennifer Wilson.

~Challenge Me and Convince Me~ through a slow math process.

About the Author: Jennifer Lamb

Director of Elementary Math
Oklahoma State Department of Education

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