Saturday, March 8, 2014

Full Potential

I'm not a fan of hockey, but I really enjoyed reading this story in the Atlantic yesterday about how Finnish goaltenders are suddenly dominating professional hockey. As I was reading this quote jumped out at me,
We’re not training kids to be their best when they’re 13. I’m looking at what you need to do as a 13-year-old so you can reach your full potential.
I ended up tweeting it later because I thought it did a pretty good job of summing up my philosophy as a teacher of high school students. While I always want my students (you guys) to do their best, I don't necessarily expect them (you) to be at their best. Yet.

I'm trying to help you develop into your full potential. I'm trying to help you learn, and grow, and be curious, and develop the habits of mind that will allow you to be successful in whatever area you choose. That's why I get so frustrated sometimes when it appears as though you are just sitting back passively and waiting for me to "deliver" the answer to you. That's not what learning is all about, and that's not what I want our classroom to be about.

I understand that not all of you are going to love math, but I want you to love learning. I want you to be curious about things. I want you - even if you don't love math - to be curious enough to want to figure out the answer to whatever we're talking about. Whether it's a "real-world" application or a more abstract mathematical topic, my hope is that you will strive to learn, strive to understand. I want you to strive; to be an active participant in your own learning.

So I want you to think. I want you to truly think when you get texts from me (or emails for those of you who didn't give me a cell phone number - although you can still add your cell number if you want) giving you problems to think about, or tips about your homework (like you've been getting the last two days about the Quadratic Functions worksheet). That doesn't mean I expect you to figure out everything on your own, but it does mean that I expect you to actually take a few minutes and try to figure it out; to think.

That's why I never give you 30 problems to do for homework. I give you two or three and ask you to spend a fairly limited amount of time actively engaged in thinking about them. And then I want you to care enough to ask questions if you get stumped. When we're in class I want you to truly think about whatever activity we are doing, and actually focus on trying to figure whatever it is out, instead of hoping that I'll just tell you the "answer" and move on.

I know many of you don't believe this, but Algebra class is not about getting the "answer." It's really not. It's really about learning, about striving, and about developing your full potential. I hope you'll consider joining me in doing all of those things.


  1. I tell those who come to me to learn tai chi that I will be happy to teach them but if they do not practice it is not tai chi. The goal of practice is muscle memory that does not arise if one simply understands the tai chi form intellectually. My sense is that the goal of substantial math practice is the internalization of math rules. Not necessary, you think?

    1. I think it depends on your definition of "substantial" and whether the practice is intentional and meaningful. I attempt to meet those last two criteria, but I don't know how well I do.