"There is no one way"

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Everything I Know

On December 1st, I was a guest presenter at the UC Berkeley School of Education, for a student-initiated course about teaching practice.

My past experiences in working with preservice teachers (at NC State in 1992, and at USF in 2006) had been rather unsuccessful. Both times I taught a course for undergraduates who were future math teachers, and both times they were very resistant to my approach, especially the idea that they should try to get more depth of understanding of high school math -- something they felt they already knew. Thus, when I used some of the activities I always do very successfully with both students and teachers, they were resentful, and I was clueless about how to help them shift their perspective.

Given this, I was worried about the December 1st presentation being a disaster. Luckily, I had a 3-hour workshop I had done at the California Association of Independent Schools Retreat for Beginning Teachers every year from 1991 to 2005. That workshop had invariably gone well, so I decided to do an abbreviated version for the Berkeley group.

The full version of that workshop had included these activities and discussions:
- the polyomino perimeter exploration (which can be found in my Geometry Labs book, as well as here and here. It is an activity I've done successfully with students of almost every age, with teachers at every level of experience, and even with parents.)
- Heterogeneous Classes
- Group Work
- Technology
    Make These Designs (Teacher Notes)
    Super-Scientific Notation
- manipulatives
    Scaling Supertangrams
    The 10cm Circle
The whole workshop was organized around an outline with the title Everything I Know.

On December 1st, I started with the polyomino perimeter exploration, debriefed, and used the Everything I Know outline to structure the rest of the two hours. I'm told it went well. There was not enough time for the other six handouts: perhaps I'll go over those if I get invited back.



  1. As a math educator familiar with the brilliant work done to improve student learning in math by Henri Piccioto, I am dismayed at the lack of receptivity by pre-service teachers. I am dismayed but not surprised. Clearly we have systemic problems in math education in the U.S., and the lack of respect and receptivity by pre-service teachers for a master teacher is but a small part of the problem. Still, it is a symptom of the problem.

  2. Well, I may have overstated the case. Both times (NC State and USF), I had small classes in which perhaps one third to a half of the students were inspired by my approach, and perhaps one third to a half were tremendously negative and resistant.

    Of course, I tended to obsess about the students who I didn't reach...

    The other thing to be said about this is that my reception among teachers who have even very little experience is almost always excellent. In both of these cases, I was working with students who not only didn't have any teaching experience, but they also had not yet been student teachers.