Exhaustion and Giving Stuff Away

Post image for Exhaustion and Giving Stuff Away

by bledsoe on April 5, 2014

Someone once said that anyone who visited a typical high school classroom would come to the conclusion that “teachers work very hard, and their students watch them work very hard.” When I first heard this, I remember thinking that it was both entirely true and entirely messed up. In fact, I think that it simultaneously points at two of the most important issues in our classrooms today: teachers work themselves to exhaustion, while students spend too much time engaged in passive, rather than active, learning activities.

There is something fundamentally flawed about the idea that one can learn to do anything of importance by simply watching someone else do it. You don’t learn to play basketball by watching someone else play, and you don’t learn to do math by watching someone else solve math problems. You have to pick up your pencil (or your basketball) and try it yourself, and the more time you spend actively engaged in that activity, the better you’re going to get.

One of the things I like about using instructional videos in my classroom is that it addresses both of these problems at the same time. When I take a 30-minute lecture and put it in a 10-minute video, I save myself 30 minutes of exhausting (and some might say unnecessary) work every time I have to present that material. And since I’m able to deliver the material much more efficiently via video, I now have 20 extra minutes of class time in which I can have my students do more cognitively active work.

Another thing that I believe strongly about teaching is that teachers should Give Stuff Away. When I first started working at my school, I took over for a teacher who left in the middle of the semester. While I had no concerns about my mastery of the actual topics of the course, as a new teacher I had zero resources: no notes, no worksheets, no tests, no quizzes. And I also had no idea how to effectively present the topics to the students. Lucky for me, another teacher at my school had been teaching this course for several years, and she happily gave me two huge binders full of all of her course materials, organized and ready for me to use. It was a godsend. The class didn’t teach itself, but if my fellow teacher hadn’t given me all of the course materials that she had already created, I would have had a ton of extra work to do, in addition to the huge pile of “regular” work that a new teacher has to do.

Giving Stuff Away has benefits not only for the students, who get access to materials created by multiple teachers, and not only for the teachers who are able to use, and hopefully build upon, something that I’ve done, it also has benefits for me. When I create a new instructional video for one of my classes, I upload it to youtube and put a link on my class website. Occasionally someone will send me an email, or leave me a comment, that asks why I did something a certain way, or points out something that I could have done differently. That gives me an opportunity to reflect on my teaching and consider ways to improve it.

That’s the power of Giving Stuff Away. With very little extra effort, it’s not just me coming up with a better activity for me to use; it’s two of us, coming up with an even better activity for both of us. And pretty soon, often through the magic of the internet, it’s several of us, maybe even hundreds of us, adding and tweaking and improving, coming up with something that none of us would have been able to come up with alone, which can now be used by many students and teachers.

This kind of win-win-win scenario can occur almost effortlessly if teachers are willing to Give Stuff Away. Email it to colleagues, post it online, make it easily available to anyone who wants it. And they’ll take it and amplify the impact of your work in ways you could never have imagined.

[Note: I was recently selected by my teaching colleagues to be the 2014-2015 Teacher of the Year representative from our school; this was one of the essays I wrote as part of that process.]

Photo Credit: WorldIslandInfo.com via Compfight cc

{ 1 comment }

Matt Farley is my hero

January 29, 2014
Thumbnail image for Matt Farley is my hero

If you've never heard of Matt Farley, you need to. He's a guy who's been writing about a hundred songs a day (you read that right) since 2008, and made $23,000 last year as a songwriter via royalties from iTunes and Spotify. Matt writes and records songs about almost any topic you could possibly imagine; [...]

Read the full article →

Three reasons I like my “hybrid” flipped classroom

December 28, 2013
Thumbnail image for Three reasons I like my “hybrid” flipped classroom

As I was preparing to teach a new course this semester (Common Core Math, Year 2), one of the things I had to figure out was what would be the role of video in my new class. I'd been using a flipped model for the past couple of years in both my Geometry and AFM [...]

Read the full article →

Four reasons I like Common Core Math

November 17, 2013
Thumbnail image for Four reasons I like Common Core Math

Given the many people and groups who have come out as being "for" or "against" the Common Core, I wanted to say that I've been teaching the second year of Common Core Math (CC2) in my high school math classroom since the beginning of this semester and, generally speaking, I like it. Here are four [...]

Read the full article →

Group work 2.0

November 11, 2013
Thumbnail image for Group work 2.0

I've written before about my use of group work in my high school math classroom, and while I feel like I've been getting better at coordinating it, I still wasn't completely satisfied. This year I made some changes in how I implement group work and I'm now much happier with my results. I'm now convinced [...]

Read the full article →

Is this a flipped classroom?

October 20, 2013
Thumbnail image for Is this a flipped classroom?

I've been using the flipped classroom model for the past two years in my high school math classes, and in general I'm a fan. I got started with it because I liked the idea of students doing the more passive watching-a-lecture-and-taking-notes stuff at home, then doing the more active/challenging problem-solving type work in class. Also, [...]

Read the full article →

I wish all my students would write me notes like this

September 12, 2013

No, it's not a thank-you note, it's a note a student wrote to me on a quiz. The problem asks the students to dilate a given triangle by a scale factor of 3 and to graph both triangles. When doing a dilation on an x-y grid, this is most easily done by simply multiplying each [...]

Read the full article →

My video cameras need names

August 12, 2013
Thumbnail image for My video cameras need names

Now that I have a bunch of spanking new video cameras for my classroom, I've decided to name them after famous mathematicians, and you can help me choose the names by voting in the poll in the sidebar. You can vote for as many names as you like, and you can even vote more than [...]

Read the full article →

Flipped Classroom Presentation, August 2013

August 12, 2013

These are the materials from a presentation I put together for the "Global & STEM Education" workshop at Enloe High School in Raleigh, NC, on August 13, 2013, on my experiences flipping my high school math classes. Feel free to download and use anything you find here. Powerpoint slides A set of guided notes (Common Core Math [...]

Read the full article →

Video Camera Acquisition Project: The Results

August 5, 2013
Thumbnail image for Video Camera Acquisition Project: The Results

The results of my Video Camera Acquisition Project are in, and I'm thrilled to announce it was a smashing success! I received a total of 5 brand-new Kodak Playfull video cameras, $295 in cash donations, plus one smartphone tripod mount. I used the $295 to buy four more cameras (used), plus seven 16G SDHC memory cards [...]

Read the full article →