It is true that I have been away a few days. Just when I was starting to like this blogging thing, Life got in the way. On the way home on Tuesday, I experienced a harsh result of a lack of focus; I rear-ended another car at a stop light. (We were sitting still, the light turned green, I eased forward, while attending to something inside the car, and I slammed into the rear end of a large SUV.) My car was drive-able but the front end was smashed. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t had any warnings. The previous week I broke two pairs of reading glasses within a few hours. Since I was not paying much attention at the time, I guess God decided that I needed a bigger reminder to pay attention and stay focused. As if that wasn’t enough, I had more bad news. While I was waiting for the police to clear this mess up, I received a email critiquing my latest essay for my PhD. It also inferred a lack of focus on my part. I was definitely detecting a disturbing pattern here. I needed to get it together…fast. On Thursday, I was invited to do a training session on using to emotional moments (good and bad) to promote personal and professional growth. I feel that it would be terrible for me to feel unfocused when handed such a great opportunity to help my fellow teachers. My first step was to discuss this issue over lunch with my wife. We talked about where our inner lives were and it struck me that the problem was a lack of focus. (I realized that I was only about 80% there when she was talking to me.) When I got home, I decided to go to YouTube to figure out what was the best way to handle better focus. After checking out a few videos, I realized that the definitive answer was in my unconscious all along; meditation. I had been introduced to the practice around 2003 by a friend who was a Buddhist monk from Sri Lanka. (Ironically, he made contact about visiting us about the time I broke the sets of glasses. Still not paying attention to what I should!) At the time, I used it to help with my explosive anger. After making a habit of about 60 minutes a day, my temper became much more manageable. However, in the years since then, I have been doing a lot less meditating. This speaks to how much I need to return to this practice. It is not the answer to everything but it may be the missing piece I am looking for in my path for personal and professional growth.
It is a Sunday night before a new school week. This is when I mentally check with myself whether I am ready to teach on Monday and if there are any loose ends I need to wrap up. My grading is all caught up, except for Friday’s tests and some make-up tests. My lesson plans were filled out on Friday morning. Normally, that would be enough to convince me that I am ready to go. If this were the case, I would turn my attention to my personal dream work or do some reading for my PhD program or write some of the required work for my PhD program. That would be the case if my teaching day was a normal teach, assign and grade day. But it is not. I have decided to try something different. I have decided to step outside the prototypical teacher mode and do something different. This is going to take some preparation. Some interesting preparation.
However, before I go into the details of this new approach, I believe that it is best to give a little background on my approach. About this time last year, I received an electronic invitation to take part in a workshop in New York City. It seemed interesting but it was New York City! And I was living in Athens, GA. Long story short, it was exciting and scary at the same time; So I sucked up the fear and did it anyway. (It was very much like taking the jump to do this blog.) It was with The East Side Institute in Manhattan and Lois Holzman. The main premise I received from the three days was that concepts go to a deeper place when you act them out. Some of this butted heads with some of my Jungian beliefs but I found a way for it to blend into my belief system. The program emphasized acting, something that makes me feel rather uncomfortable. Despite this, I participated fully and learned some valuable things, as evidenced by this experiment.
A second influence was from my mentor, Peter Burmeister. Peter sent me an article on “unschooling.” This concept is, as I understand it, where parents pull their kids out of school and educate them at home. However, instead of copying a standard curriculum, they teach them by immersing them in the parents’ everyday living. That is, they allow the natural processes of Life to teach them all the lessons they need. This is also included in this experiment.
The third piece of this idea was presented by one of my Saybrook professors and a book she requested I read. Ruth Richards suggested I read Interpretive Ethnography by Norman K. Denzin. In the book, Denzin suggests many different ways to present research. One of those is interactive theatre. Therefore, that is the basis for my experiment.
Now back to the classroom. The setting is my 9th grade coordinate algebra class. About a week ago, we covered the last section in the book. Therefore, this class is all review for the last three months of the school year. Our first week was reviewing the same way I taught, except that the kids picked what we reviewed. Even though I gave them this power, there were still complaints. The biggest complaint was “why are we doing same problems all over the again?!” I told them I wasn’t gonna change it. I guess I lied.
So here is the plan. I created a new set of problems thanks to a test-making program. It will given to them on Monday and due on Friday. Nothing new so far. The new part is what I am calling Math Theatre. I have a written a short play that illustrates the idea of balancing equation. (I will try to attached it some way. Balance play.) I will then divide the class into groups and they will come to the front of the class and perform it at their best. It is my hope that the concreteness of the play and the fact that everyone performs it will lead to deeper learning. If it doesn’t, I will refine it or reject it. The fun is in the process. As well as fun growth.
Update: I tried this today and asked the students to respond. The results were split; half found it boring and half liked it but thought there should be a variety of plays. I am going to make the next step and ask them to write and perform the plays, given the subject of the day. I’ll update this tomorrow.
Update #2. After a week of this practice, the students tell me that they like the practice. They also recommended that they write plays on Mondays and Wednesdays and they perform them on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They also claim that they help the students learn the concepts better. There is evidence of this because we played a game using the weekly worksheet I gave them. There were very few incorrect answers on the worksheet. After the students exchanged worksheets and graded them, most of the scores looked like they were 80-90% correct. It seems like a love of learning and better performance on the work. I will keep everyone posted.
I start this blog with great fear and great excitement. I have been a high school mathematics teacher for about a dozen years. I love teaching but have always butted heads with administrations because their approach seemed to be “not quite right.” I could not really put my finger on this disconnect until I was introduced to Jungian dream work. And then to an advanced degree in education. As I am on the verge of a PhD in psychology, I have become what I like to call an Educational Warrior. I feel like it is about time that we change the way we teach high school subjects, particularly mathematics.
You may ask what the connection between education and psychology is. It is a connection that is taught in colleges in teacher education programs. But only briefly. I only remember taking 1 or 2 psychology courses in my curriculum. On top of that, the name of Carl Jung was never mentioned. (In my masters’ program, one textbook mentioned Jung once and it was to say that Jung’s writings were “too dense” and unverifiable. I find those as poor excuses to reject some brilliant views.) Therefore, with my background and experience, I intend on trying to repair these oversights.
The reader may also ask what motivates to do this. The quick answer is that it is my passion. The reader may ask if my passion is to make my students academians and my answer to that is no. My goal is to help my students to find their bliss. That is, to find what turns them on. What is it that makes them excited? We as educators do this by introducing them to as many different things as possible. That is the reason my class is a combination mathematics, psychology, dreams, music, poetry and famous quotes. I even try to include my passion for sports when I can. But, as my mentor often tells me, I need to “Go deeper.” The deeper reason for this pursuit is to correct my negative past. My childhood was filled with times that I felt unprotected and unsupported. I felt like I needed someone to guide me and there was nobody there. By the time I got to high school, I just wanted to get it over with. I knew I was smart but I wasn’t enjoying high school much. With that being said, my passion is to be an advocate for my students and help them to find their inner purpose.
The last thing I would like to state my purposes of this blog. In the short term, I would like to put teaching ideas “out there” and learn from the feedback from the readers of this blog. My long-term goal is to develop opportunities where I could teach teachers to teach better by using Jungian-based ideas towards teaching. Please let me know how I am doing.