6th grade for my youngest was a struggle. New school, a new routine moving from class to class, and a lot of new responsibilities. So much more to remember. He always did well in school, but this is the first time he had to start figuring things out on his own rather than following preset formulas and lessons set up by his teachers. Through the pandemic, it’s changed again. I need to help him discover a learning process that will work for any subject, but especially with ones he doesn’t like as much like math.
The reality of education
When I was in school, we were always taught to get good grades so we can get into a good college, earn a degree and get a good job. First of all, when you’re applying for a job, no one cares about the grades you got in school. They just want to know if you have the ability to do the job. Grades only really matter when you are applying to colleges.
Second, unless you want to be a doctor, lawyer or teacher, college is not always required. Knowing how you learn and truly understanding the material is more important than grades. As a parent, I’ve learned to put less emphasis on the grades.
So how do we learn?
Engagement is the cornerstone of learning. Teachers want students to be attentive, taking notes, listening, asking questions, and participating in the lessons. But when the students come to class with preconceived notions of their capabilities, engaging students becomes even more challenging. I don’t know how many times my son has told me, “I’m just not good at math.”
No learning happens until students agree to become engaged with the material.– Jal Mehta, Associate Professor of Education, Harvard, quoted from Bored Out of Their Minds
Currently in the pandemic, good teachers have learned to leverage technology for their zoom classes with games, break out rooms, and online group projects. Unfortunately, there are still some old-school teachers that will teach through lectures. This is a sure fire way to instill boredom and halt learning.
But is engagement the solution?
There are some that believe students just need to “suck it up” and do the work. That students need to figure out how to learn because their next teacher might not be as engaging, but the problem is students like my son fail to see the meaning and the purpose for math when all he wants to focus on is his art.
Figuring out how math applies in the real world will be just as important as engagement. So how do we pull this all together?
The new learning process approach
I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they learn.– Albert Einstein
His older brother is always telling him how important math is and that it’s everywhere. He still can’t see it, so we need to take a different approach so he can learn.
It’s going to take a bit of extra effort on my part. We need to focus on the critical thinking process, the ability to analyze and breakdown the problem in a way he can understand.
First part of my plan
Step 1: The plan is to go over the lesson taught in school BEFORE he starts his homework. Maybe the teacher went too fast with the lesson, or he got distracted and missed a step. Sometimes he might simply forget the whole lesson because it didn’t gel in his mind.
Step 2: Then I’ll have him teach the lesson to me. This means he has to know the material well enough to explain it to me. I’m going to pretend I know nothing and he’ll have to make sure he explains things correctly. I’ll keep asking questions until it makes sense. He’ll also need to prove it works. Can you plug in a number and get the right answer? Can you reverse the process to check the answer?
Step 3: Once we’ve gone through all the examples, then he can do the homework questions.
Currently, I check in with him every night. I need to know exactly when the end of the chapter is coming and when to review. If needed, I’ll give him some real life word problems to practice for the test. Word problems are key because he has to figure out what’s being asked before doing the calculations. I’m hoping he’ll be able to see how math is used every day and how important it really is.
The final problem solving goal
My aim is to get him to know his own strengths and weaknesses. Through trial and error we can figure out what we can do to overcome challenges. Maybe he needs to try doodling his notes for more of a visual or standing up during class so he can be alert and moving. We’ll set up small consistent goals, checking progress regularly and tweaking as we go. Let’s see how this little experiment works out!
UPDATE: From getting Ds and Fs last year… My spacey pumpkin has been averaging As this year! Yay!