The #msmathchat this week was on apathy. Apparently my students follow me on twitter because Wednesday they decided to challenge me with some major apathy which lead to some epic speeches. Seriously, if only they were recorded because we are talking award winning. Basically, I had two different issues going on.
Major theme #1- This is hard, so I’m just going to sit here and not do it, not ask questions, not even make an attempt.
For this problem, I went with the honesty approach. I stopped everyone and told them I had a major concern. And that was apathy. No one knew what that meant, so we looked it up and discussed it. I told them I was very concerned about what I was witnessing. I explained exactly what I was seeing and exactly what impact this would have on their future. I made them a promise. I promised them that I would continue to give them really challenging problems and that I wasn’t going to stop because they were frustrated and giving up on themselves. I told them they were worth learning the material. I talked about how life only gets harder from here. I talked about some of the professional challenges teachers face and how that has made me want to give up sometimes, but where would I be if I gave up on myself. I also talked about how great I felt when I tried at something difficult and succeeded. That it feels a million times better to succeed at something difficult when you know you have worked really hard and didn’t give up. And I felt like it worked. They listened, they responded, and they got right to work. And they were pretty successful. But I also reminded them that if they had always given up on themselves when it came to math that the first few challenges would be really difficult, but that every time they succeeded it would get a little bit easier next time. Then I ended class with a good old cheer of “what’s our motto? No apathy!” Today when this group came back in, I gave a recap speech and my plan is to remind them of what we talked about regularly.
Major theme #2- Since you gave me a difficult problem, I am going to get mad when you don’t spoon feed me the answer.
I stuck with the honesty policy for this one as well. I made this group the same promise- that I was going to continue to give them really difficult problems. And I wasn’t going to stop just because they didn’t like it. I talked about how it would be a lot easier on me to just show them how to do the one problem we had been talking about for a half hour that I made them redo and redo until it was right. Then I told them to think about how much I value my own class time with them. And to think about how important it must be for them to understand this problem and stick with the struggle if I am willing to spend this much class time on it. I also told them that I would proceed to spend my entire class period on the problem, and the next period if needed to get them to where they needed to be. I even threw in a “If you stick with me I will make you the best mathematician you have ever been.” It was inspirational. Then we talked about attitude. And how sometimes when we are frustrated we show our frustration by being rude to others, but how that wasn’t an answer. And we talked about how if you weren’t ever taught how to sit with a struggle or you hadn’t done it a lot before, that it would be really difficult to do that the first time. And I talked to them about how the people who really care about us want to teach us to do things on our own and succeed on our own, not depend on us for everything. And I told them how much I cared about them and what I saw for their futures if they joined me on the journey. And I will be honest, the ones who were mad were still mad. And I’m guessing that’s because they are middle schoolers. But then today, I reminded them of my epic speech and did a recap and I saw a slight change. They were on my side. And I think that’s because they know I am on theirs.
For you @JustinAion, maybe it will actually make a difference!