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Jessica Watkins's picture

Thinking "Up"

As Jenna, Kate and I discussed in a meeting with Wil and Paul yesterday, Rebecca's presentation proved that starting out with an interesting, far-reaching question that everyone can understand makes more complex, mathematical material easily accessible.  Relating something so concrete, such as graphs and slopes, to something emotionally-connecting like wildlife conservation was a good decision, particularly within our group of mostly nonmath teachers.  Her continuous rounds between groups during the activity was encouraging because she took the time to answer all questions and stressed that fact that there was no "right" answer.  However, even after all of that, there was still much confusion floating about the room at the end of the activity when we began our follow-up discussion.

It seems as if some people just can't learn certain subjects, no matter how hard they try (example: Keith's lifelong struggle with math).  Why is this?  If it is true that we are all born with the capability to learn, a notion that we have pushed throughout the entire Institute, why can't some people learn those subjects at which others excel?  Does personal background/culture play a role?  The idea of breaking down a larger story into smaller ideas and questions sounds like it would work if, after each step, the entire group paused to make sure everyone was understanding the material.  Then, students could work their way back up to the larger picture and the original question by first going through the smaller ones ("thinking up").

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