Monday, June 7, 2010

A New Road Taken

Photo Courtesy mdmarkus66 flickr cc
   With the end of this school year I will not be teaching high school mathematics any more (at least for a few years).  That's a strange feeling.  It was my wife who said to me "well, you have always wanted to be a math teacher and a baseball coach."  That was around 1989.  I was on active duty in the Navy and was planning on getting out.  But what would I do?
    Since 1994 I have taught in Newport News Virginia; Sasebo, Japan; Portsmouth, Rhode Island; Brunssum, The Netherlands; Gainesville, Florida; Round Rock, Texas and now Manor, Texas.  I have taught math at every level from 6th grade to college and every course in that range except Calculus (including college Statistics and 3 levels of college algebra).   This coming school year I will suddenly find myself teaching in the engineering world.  I have a couple of irons in the fire so I'm not sure exactly what I'll be teaching but it won't look like anything I have taught for the last 16 years.
    As I look back at my time teaching math to students (from age 10 to 60) there is a common thread.  Most students fear math and all students appreciate someone who will try and explain what is going on in as many ways as possible.  So how should math teachers approach these two, important, lessons learned?  First,  and most importantly, show students multiple ways to view a problem.  At the younger ages (through middle school) you might require a certain procedure for working problems, but show them other ways too.  Show them how it can be completed using technology.  Explain to them what is going on graphically.  Draw them pictures.  The more ways you can present the math to a student the better chance we have with them grasping what is going on behind the numbers and symbols.
   We will never totally rid the world of math anxiety.  However, we can (and should) give the students tools that help them become more successful in the math classroom, on a standardized test, and in their lives after they leave formal education.  As I venture forth in the engineering world I intend to ensure all of my students are comfortable with the mathematics that is sitting behind the drawings or is embedded in the CAD program.  Engineering should be fun and having a certain comfort level with mathematics can help that happen.