Teacher and coach

Playing is too much work

I was becoming a little frustrated with my attempts to use GeoGebra in my Geometry classes. I had found or created a bunch of GeoGebra apps that fit with different parts of the course, and had created some worksheets/instructions to guide my students thru some exploration-type activities where they could discover, for example, properties of different geometric figures, but none of the activities ever seemed to really work like I wanted.

I tried a few as in-class demos, but since all of my students were just watching me play with the app instead of playing with it themselves, they lacked an actual hands-on component. I tried a few as homework assignments, but even though I was sure that I had given them a set of instructions that were clear and easy-to-follow, the students still seemed confused by them. I eventually realized that most of my students were just clicking on the app and then sitting there looking at it, as though it were a video that wouldn’t play. They didn’t seem to understand that they were supposed to play with the app and, based on the patterns they saw, make some guesses about what might be true about, for example, the opposite angles of a parallelogram.

I finally decided I needed to give them an activity (in this case, a fill-in-the-blanks worksheet) that they would need the GeoGebra apps to complete, and take the whole class to the school computer lab during a class period so that a) everyone would have their own computer and thus would get hands-on time with the apps, and b) I could see what they were doing and provide help if needed.

I was generally pretty pleased with how it went. I still feel like GeoGebra has a lot of potential that I’m not yet making use of, but this was definitely a step in the right direction.

One of the things I learned was that a lot of my students are very resistant to the whole idea of “playing” with the app to try to discover something about the shapes involved; they clearly just wanted me to tell them what words to write in the blanks. (I even caught a few students trying to use Google to figure out what words to write in the blanks.) This baffles me. To me, having someone tell me what to write in a blank (and then calling that learning) is not only less effective than me discovering it myself, but it’s also extremely boring. I’d much rather have the opportunity to play around with something and see what patterns or properties jump out at me.

The thing is, in order for this whole “playing” thing to be effective, the students have too be willing to play. And that means making a little bit of effort (e.g., you have to grab the mouse and drag some of the points around). For many of my students, that’s too much work. They’d rather have me just give them the answers; sure, it’s boring, but at least it’s not work.

This is the big hurdle that I face with many of my students: they have a remarkable unwillingness to do anything that requires any effort whatsoever. Even something that might be “fun”. They’re willing to watch a video, or sit while I talk at them, but to actually do something? “No, thanks,” they seem to say, “I’ll just sit here.”

I’m still working on it, but it’s a tough one.

Image by Pink Sherbet Photography via Flickr.

2 Responses to “Playing is too much work”

  1. bledsoe says:

    The “spoon-feeding” problem is definitely a problem. I’m sure there are ways to address it, I just haven’t figured many of them out yet.

    But I will.

  2. Dori Staehle says:

    I have to commend you, Lance, for all your creative ideas and your obvious passion to help students learn in more effective and enjoyable ways. I wish more of my tutoring students had teachers like you and more teachers stopped holding their students hands and allowed them to learn.

    The result of this “spoon-fed” learning is what I have been seeing over the past 17 years: a steady decline of creative and critical thinking skills. If I ask my students to try to come up with an answer another way, they seem lost. When I give them a practical math question and ask them if their answer makes sense, they don’t know. The same applies to their essay answers, as well as their college application essays.

    We have to stop “teaching to the test”! Businesses need employees who can think on their feet and brainstorm solutions. Their bosses won’t hold their hands!

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