Prepared To Be Wrong

"If you're not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original." -Ken Robinson


My blog reader is FULL right now, so full of teachers posting start of the school year posts.  I am overwhelmed with it all, too much information for me to process as I’m getting ready for my own school start next week.

Plus I’m trying to read and comment on other new bloggers from the New Blogger Initiative.  I am beginning to wonder why I’m doing this, and I’ve pondered stopping with the blogging thing already! (I know!)  But I am going to make myself do these 4 posts!

I am sharing here my opening day activity that I do in all my classes.  This is the best activity I’ve found to get adults up, walking around, and talking to people they don’t know when they’re in a math class and scared out of their minds.  There are many variations of this activity out there.

I give students ten minutes to fill in as many blanks as they can, and by the end of that time they are still talking and meeting others and they don’t want to stop.  It happens every time, and that is why I love this activity.  At the end of the activity I spend five minutes asking the group to name someone they found that works at night, who’s working on a GED, etc.  Even the students who are hesitant to meet others always appreciate this activity when it is over.


Focusing on what comes first

I was lucky enough to attend one of Dan’s workshops this summer at a STEM collaborative in Maine.  Ask Dan how his wife’s knitting is coming along from that trip.  (Let’s just say it wasn’t exactly the Maine vacation of their dreams as far north as we were).  I’ve read his blog for a couple of years, I thought I knew what all his Three Act Lessons were about, so I almost didn’t sign up for his session.  On the first of our five days I knew I made the right choice…throughout the week I learned all the little nuances and subtleties that go into his Three Acts that I didn’t realize before.

I’m curious to see if the Three Act format will work as well for my student base of adults (see my previous post for more about my work).  I already have the most motivated, interested students possible.  They want to be there, they are hungry for knowledge.  I don’t need to convince them that this stuff is relevant, I don’t need their buy-in.

Of course I’m still going to use the Three Act format at times, it’s brilliant.  But my real focus this year will be on bringing the good, challenging questions up first, letting the students wrestle with that, and following that up with the explanations or lecture.  It’s a minor change really, subtle but powerful I hope.

Who I Am…a Teacher of Adults

When I tell people I’m a math teacher, they always ask “What Grade?” and to that I reply “I teach adults.”  Which is  something they’re not prepared to hear.  I’m not talking about adults in college either, I teach for a local adult education program in New England.  These are people trying to get a high school diploma or a GED, or people who want to go to college but aren’t ready yet.  Many of our students are trying to get a job, or a better job, or change careers altogether.  Our student population is 1000.  60% of our students are immigrants and refugees.  I’ve taught 17 year old drop-outs, and 60+ year old grandmothers.  They are all motivated students, so I don’t have the usual behavioral and attitude issues I hear about from k-12 teachers.

One misconception people often have about adult education is that we teach only at night.  Our classes run from 9 in the morning until 9 at night, so I teach a combination of days and nights.  Usually adult education programs are run through the local community college, but ours is part of the public school system.  So while I am an employee of the public school system, I am definitely not treated the same.  We do get the same salary scale (finally, thanks to years of hard work and insistence by my more senior adult ed. colleagues) but we do not get the same resources.  I have no school laptop, no smartboard, no computers in every room.  Heck, we just got our first digital projectors installed in 2 of our classrooms (we have 10 academic classrooms altogether).

And remember those lack of resources?  Imagine the types of people who come to adult education…those who dropped out, sometimes because of a learning disability that may or may not have been diagnosed, or students who graduated but didn’t understand what they were learning and now they want to go to college, or an immigrant who never learned math in their own language let alone in a new one.  We have no special education, no IEP’s, no ed techs.  We learn as we go how to help all types of learners, and thankfully we have wonderful volunteers who contribute time to our classrooms.  In fact that’s how I got involved with adult education in the first place, I started as a volunteer math tutor 11 years ago.  They asked me to start teaching and I never looked back.

The math I teach (basics to algebra) ends up being equivalent to 3rd through 8th grades.  We use a lot of manipulatives, hands on labs, writing prompts and group activities to help our students learn.  I am eager to share my perspective on teaching math and learn from others as well.

New Blogger Initiative

So I’ve been reading math teaching blogs for years, always looking for ways to improve my teaching.  I lurk but I don’t comment because I’m afraid I have nothing to contribute, I’m afraid I’ll be laughed at, I’m afraid I will sound dumb, I’m afraid they won’t get me.  I’m afraid, and I want to be perfect.  I’m that way with my teaching as well.

Then I saw Ken Robinson’s TED talk, and this line hit me hard, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original, and you’ll be afraid to be wrong”.  Afraid to be wrong, that was me.  After hearing that, I vowed to change the way I think about my teaching.  Heck, I’m changing the way I think about my life.  I value creativity in life and education, and this fear is holding me back.

Today I read Sam Shah’s post on the New Blogger Initiative and I’m up for the challenge.  It’s only four posts, right?  I can do that, and I’m not afraid.

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