Saturday, June 18, 2011

Summer

Summer is here, or almost here, for some. Summer is always a special time for teachers, even though most of us cannot afford to take the summer off and rest on the beach, as many non- teachers seem to think we do. It is a time to look at things from a different point of view, to reflect on the last year and take actions that will make next year even better. It is a time to catch up, to rejuvenate oneself, to reacquaint oneself with one's family, and to figure out how to do it better next time.
I have observed that summer is a time for teachers to travel, often to places that connect with what they teach. Language teachers frequently spend time in countries that speak the language they teach, and while there they soak up the culture of the country so they can make their classes more alive. History and English teachers frequent sites that are relevant to what they teach, go to museums, and read books they have been putting off while they grade papers. Artists create art and visit places where there is great art. Musicians create music and listen to music, and physical education teachers participate in their favorite sports and exercise activities.
So, what do math and science teachers do in the summer? Yes, there are historical sites that enhance what we teach, and many of us do travel for that purpose. But summer also gives us a chance to work on some of those hard problems we haven't yet solved or to learn how to use that new piece of technology we just haven't had a chance to master, or perhaps to take a workshop or two. I would also like to point out that many of us use this time to read and study.
On that note: I just finished a book that I recommend to any math teacher who intends to be involved in math education for the next ten years: Mathematics Education for a New Era: Video Games as a Medium for Learning by Keith Devlin. Dr. Devlin is a mathematics professor at Stanford who has become fascinated with the potential of video games as a tool for helping students learn mathematics. He makes a very good case. Even if you immediately disagree, it is interesting, stimulating reading.
Another book I highly recommend is What's Math Got to Do With It by Jo Boaler. This book is about teaching mathematics and is really a case study of two schools, one that achieved remarkable results and another that muddeled along as it had been doing.
And if you are just looking for a book that is about math, I suggest a couple of old favorites: The Mathematical Experience by Davis and Hersh, Journey Through Genius by William Dunham, and The Man Who Knew Infinity by Robert Kanigel. These are all enjoyable, informative and helpful reads.
If only the public really knew how much time and effort we put into our work.
Have a great summer.