Friday, September 25, 2009

Brick Makers vs Builders

There Is A Difference

Today ended an exhausting week.  This week, as sometimes sadly happens, I got news of the death of someone I knew.  This person was a young wife and mother, who left behind four children under the age of 11.  Additionally, it resulted in my having to field conversations with my seven year old about the death of her friend's mom.  But that is not the focus of this blog.  Perhaps, at some other time, it may be something that I find I want to write about.  But for the moment I am choosing not to expound on it except to say that, obviously, it contributed greatly to my exhausting week.

When something of that magnitude happens, I find that the energy required of me to emotionally deal with it uses up a lot of my reserves.  Therefore, needless to say, I have very little energy left over to give to my students.  And as a result, those students who are just in my classes wasting time became an even greater annoyance to me this week than they usually are.  But also my patience for what I would call my "academically high maintenance" students was short this week also.  These are the students who arrive in my classes with few or no basic math skills.  They have somehow managed to get pushed along in K-12 until finally they land themselves a diploma of some sort.  Then they land in developmental math classes in college.  Now normally, since I teach "developmental" classes, i.e. Intro to Algebra, I have a lot of patience with these students.  Normally I put a lot of work into my teaching and my lessons so that I am accommodating all the variety of skills, or lack thereof, that turn up in "developmental" classes.  However, this week, my patience was short.  Fortunately, I think I masked it pretty well.

But this lack of patience did serve to help solidify into expressible thought something which has been churning in my head for quite some time.  So all was not lost.  And that is what is going to be the focus of this blog entry.

In my last entry I talked about the value of "learners" and how I define them.  This time I'm going to talk about something that I am terming "brick making" vs. "building".  Here is what I have concluded about myself this week:  I am a "builder" not a "brick maker".

Think about things that you see which are made of brick: walkways, buildings, steps, etc.  Think about how a skilled builder can take a pile of bricks and turn it into an intricate, beautiful, aesthetically pleasing creation, like a garden walkway.  To me and you, all we see in the beginning is a pile of bricks.  But the builder has vision.  In his heart and mind he sees a walkway.  And so he plans, draws, sketches and designs.  Then he sets about putting his hands to his work.  He labors hard, but loves what he does.  He spends long hours at his work, but enjoys it because he can see an end product in his mind.  And in the end, the result looks nothing like the pile of bricks with which he started.  It is an amazing transformation.  It's almost a miracle what a skilled builder can do with a pile of bricks.

But suppose you arrived at the worksite where the builder was waiting for a load of bricks, and instead you showed up with a dump truck of mud and straw.  Suppose you dumped the mud and straw in a large heap next to the builder and told him that you would be back in 40 hours expecting to find a beautiful walkway of the highest quality.  The poor builder!  He would be shocked an appalled.  He would insist there had been some mistake in the delivery!  He is a builder!  He works with bricks!  But you insist that there is no difference.  You tell him that, after all, bricks are made from mud and straw and, in fact, that is how bricks have been made since ancient times.  Surely he should be able to work with something that has been the composite material for bricks for thousands of years!  The builder disagrees.  He tells you that it would take longer than the allotted time to even change the mud and straw into bricks, let alone transform the bricks into a walkway.  But you shrug and walk back to your truck and drive away, all the while yelling over your shoulder to the builder to stop complaining and just get the job done.  After all, the components are all there.  There is no difference between a pile of mud and straw and a pile of bricks.  Technically you've provided the builder with the exact same materials.

Well I'm guessing it's pretty clear by now where I'm going with this.  When it comes to teaching math, I'm a builder.  That's why I'm a college teacher.  My skill does not lie in taking mud and straw and forming it into bricks.  Now some people are great with that, and they produce high quality bricks.  But I'm not a brick maker.  If I were, I'd be teaching K-6.  But instead, I'm a builder.  And quite frankly, by the time a student arrives in my college class, I expect him to be a brick, not a pile of mud and straw.  I can not turn a pile of mud and straw into a walkway for you.

Now don't misunderstand me.  I'm not looking for mathematicians.  A teacher who is looking for mathematicians does not teach Intro to Algebra classes, or even College Algebra classes.  A teacher looking for potential mathematicians is not likely to be teaching anything lower than a Calculus class.  A teacher who teaches Intro to Algebra and College Algebra classes is looking for bricks.  Bricks have the basic components already in place.  A brick understands the relationship between addition and subtraction.  A brick understands the relationship between multiplication and division.  A brick understands the relationship between a fraction and division.  A brick understands the relationship between a fraction, a percent and a decimal.  A brick understands that if you know the size of the part you are holding, and you know how large the whole was, then you can figure out the size of the missing piece.  Now the above skills may sound very elementary to you.  But some of my students come to me completely lacking these skills.  And this past week, especially, I found that I completely lacked the patience required of me to first turn mud and straw into bricks.

A brick also has a willingness to explore ideas and concepts.  A brick understands that you can not just multiply any two numbers together that you see in a word problem and get the correct answer.  In fact, a brick knows that you should first read the problem before doing anything else.  A brick understands that just because x=3 in the problem x + 2 = 5, that does not mean that x always will equal 3.  Therefore, when a brick sees  x + 2 = 7, he doesn't just put a 3 in there for the x because that worked last time.  A brick understands that there is a little more to it than that.  A brick also understands that there is some work involved in achieving a grade.   Now again, all of this may sound very elementary.  And it is.  It is something that should been established at the step when you were turning mud and straw into bricks.

Now the intent of this blog is not to complain about public education and public school teachers.  Plenty of that is already being done.  And quite frankly, I disagree with a lot of what is being said.  Too much blame is being put on the public school teacher that does not belong there.  But again, I am not addressing that here.

However, what I am saying is that I can not work with mud and straw.  I'm not a brick maker.  Occasionally I do it because I have to.  However, what I am is a builder.  I don't apologize for it.  It is my skill set.  I am not attempting to pretend to be a brick maker.  I need bricks already made.  I can do amazing things with bricks.  I have vision to see what others couldn't even begin to imagine.  I work hard at planning and designing.  I believe that a pile of bricks can be made into a walkway that can become the centerpiece of a garden.  I take the care that a skilled worker takes in arranging the bricks to make a useful and beautiful finished product.  And I am willing to labor long and hard to make it so.  But give me bricks.  I can't do it with mud and straw.  And that is especially evident to me on weeks when my emotional energy is in short supply.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Teachers, Testers and Learners

Is there a way "we can all just get along?"

I hate giving tests, I really do...  And thus begins this blog post of some things that have been on my mind lately.

Last Monday evening I knew I should start writing math tests for my classes.  I announced in my classes that day that there would be a test on Friday, and I let them know what sections it would cover.  So as usual, I set about thinking of how to condense several weeks of teaching down into a few questions of testing that a student could finish in 50 minutes.  As usual, I felt completely overwhelmed by the task.  So I put it off until Tuesday.  On Tuesday, every time I thought about writing math tests, I got on Twitter or checked my email instead.  Then, seeing that it was a lovely day, and I could no longer justify spending any more time sitting inside in front of the computer, I went outdoors to work in my gardens.  Then of course, I had to take a bike ride.  Then it was time for the kids to get home, and supper, and evening rituals, etc.  So I successfully procrastinated my way through Tuesday without writing my tests.  Wednesday flew by since I had to teach both during the day and in the evening.  And so I once again succeeded in putting off writing my tests.  Finally Thursday came around and I knew it had to get done.  So I sighed and groaned and set about writing the tests.  I got it done.  Friday morning I was all set and ready to go.

I hate giving tests.  I really do.  I am not by nature the type of personality that enjoys simply tossing "facts" back and forth.  As a result, I am not the type of teacher who just tosses "facts" or "steps for solving" out there, and then waits to see who is adept at tossing them right back at me in the exact same form in which they received them.  Unfortunately, being a college math teacher, I exist, for the most part, in a world where most students have had twelve or thirteen years of "fact tossing" practice. Not that it is any fault of the student.  I believe that children come into the world as learners.  And then as soon as they start kindergarten, we begin to make them testers, aka "fact tossers".  Young children may instinctually resist this at first, but they are pretty quickly trained.  Then, as they get older, they realize that compared to thinking and reasoning, "fact tossing" is a very, very easy game.  And so they begin to embrace it whole heartedly.  By the time they land in my classes, they are so used to "fact tossing", that they are often shocked that I would conduct my math classes in any other way.  And then when I put a test in front of them that requires a skill set other than "fact tossing", most want no part of it.

Now do keep in mind that I am a math teacher.  I understand the importance of "math facts".  I'll do whatever it takes to help you learn.  I'll sing, dance and stand on my head if I have to.  But in the end, when I say "6 x 7", you had best respond immediately with "42".  I am not denying the importance of committing facts to memory.  But in math, as in life, facts without concepts and reasoning skills do not serve you well over the long haul.  There is actually a fabulous post that talks about this topic, among other things, over at Half an Hour's blogspot.

But as far as tests go, I try to put something on there that requires a little thinking about processes rather than just facts.  That's why I like word problems.  You have to decipher pieces of information.  Sometimes there is a problem embedded within a problem, so it takes a few minutes to sort it out before you start to work on it.  And I don't mind if the students ask for "hints".  Or once they get started, if they show me what they have done, I may say something along the lines of, "I agree up to this point", or something like that in order to put them back on track if they went in the wrong direction.  I don't mind if a student checks in with me a couple of times while working on a problem.  If they stumble a couple of times before getting it right, that's okay.  For me, as a teacher, the test should be part of a continuation of the teaching and learning process.  Not something completely separate.  And I know for many students it's a different type of experience, especially in a math class.  So I know it does take some getting used to.  That I understand.  What I don't understand is why a student will stare at me and at the test for half an hour and do absolutely nothing.  One of my students the other day wouldn't even make a pencil mark on the paper.  The student just stared at the paper blankly, hoping for some sort of "fact tossing" event to jump out.  Then, after about half and hour, when it became clear that it wasn't going to happen, the student finally opened their notebook and started to search for anything that looked like a problem on the test.  One problem on the test happened to be the exact same problem as one that was in the notes.  So the student did that problem.  Then that was it.  Not another thing was even attempted.  I must say that this is where my patience starts to run out.  Quite honestly I get annoyed, although I do have to good sense to not verbalize it.

I guess I also dislike the first test of the semester because, for some of my students, it is the beginning of a game of pretend that will go on all semester.  And it is one for which I have no time.  I guess that needs some explanation also...

For instance, I have some students who spend their class time on Facebook, on Twitter, buying and selling on Ebay, playing World of Warcraft, or whatever other on-line activities interest them.  Now I know this is an area where many of my colleagues disagree with me, but here I go again... As I've discussed in another post, I'm not going to tell them to put away their laptops or cell phones.  First of all, some of them are actually taking notes.  I have all my class notes on-line on my web site, and some students download them to their laptops or Tablet PCs and then take notes on top of my notes during class.  And I tell them to do it if they have a computer with them.  Secondly they are adults.  As long as they are quiet and not disruptive, they are, as I see it, well within their Constitutional rights to buy and sell on E-bay any time of the day or night.  If they choose to do it during the time they are in my class, so be it.  In my opinion, if they are old enough to vote in my President, they are old enough to decide what to do during math class.  Just because I think it's a good idea to pay attention to the math teacher during math class, obviously not everyone out there shares my point of view.  But we're all grown-ups here.  And the beauty of being an adult is that you are allowed to disagree with someone.  I personally think math class is a bad time to be playing WoW, but if you see it differently, well then so be it.  I must say though, what really amazes me about this whole thing is that the students think I have no idea what they are doing.  Really now, come on.  These are small classes of 20 or 30 students, not a 500 seat lecture hall!!  And since I use Classroom Presenter, I face my class the entire time.  And they think I don't know what's going on behind those computer screens or that I can't see them texting away on their fancy cell phones.  Really, where do they get these ideas from???

At any rate, needless to say, the first test of the semester serves to show who has been using the laptop to take math notes vs update Facebook.  And then I have to listen to the Facebook crew pretend they are shocked that they did so poorly on their tests.  Or they complain that they can't believe I would give such a difficult test on things that I didn't go over in class.  (Of course they don't know what I went over in class.  But that's ok, because they did just download a whole bunch of great music.)  Or they blame it on a new semester, but they promise that they are really going to get with it now and buckle down.  Blah, blah, blah...  I can hardly contain my yawns.  Sadly, this will go on all semester until that final day to withdraw from classes.

Now I do understand that for my students who are fresh out of high school they still don't understand that the rules of the game change when they get to college.  I have a syllabus, my testing policies and grading policies are clear, and my department chair stands behind me.  There isn't going to be any parent-teacher conferences.  The guidance counselor isn't going to be sitting down with me, the student and the parents to see what "we" can do about improving the student's grade.  In fact I won't be talking to anyone about the student's grade except for the student.  But this is all new territory for a lot of them.  And the first test of the semester is part of learning how to navigate through all that.  But some days I just don't have it in me to play the game with them.

Another reason I really dislike giving tests is because I don't believe that testing makes learners out of anyone.  It may make for good memorizers.  But I don't believe it creates learners.  A test can not determine who is a learner.  A learner is a person who is willing to think multi-dimensionally.  A learner is a person who will consider an unfamiliar idea and see if it can be integrated into any existing framework with which they may be familiar.  A learner is someone who will wonder if there is a way to approach a problem other than the way from which they themselves usually approach it.  A learner is someone who can be guided.  A learner is someone who can make conceptual connections between things that, on the surface, may not appear to be related.  A learner is more than a casual observer.  A test measures none of these things.  I sometimes find that I have true learners in my classes, but a test can not measure their capacity to learn.  True learning may sometimes take a lot of time.  It may sometimes require a lot of starts and stops.  It sometimes has to happen in combination with other areas of learning.  Tests don't see any of that.

A learner also enriches a teacher.  A learner helps you, the teacher.  I benefit from having a learner in my class.  When I see a learner who is willing to try something a few times until it's right, it makes me realize yet again that as a teacher I sometimes have to try different things with my teaching.  When I see a learner who finally makes a connection and then says, "why didn't I see that before", I feel better about the fact that I say the exact same thing in my head to myself about my teaching.  When I see a learner who approaches a problem from a completely different angle then I would have, it's a good reminder to me that even math can bring out people's creativity.  When I see a learner who goes through a longer process than is necessary to get to the answer, it's a good reminder to me that sometimes, even if it's longer, you should just take the road you're sure of.  So while all of these things churn in my brain, there is no way to quantify them on a test.

Meanwhile I continue teaching and, yes, testing.  And along the way I am hoping that what really is happening is that the teacher and the learner are meeting... and benefiting from one another.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Renoir, Rembrandt and Rubens vs The Runway

Well who would have thought it? - a blog inspired by a #haikuchallenge word on Twitter. I guess I better explain myself. Most days I try to participate in the Haiku Challenge word of the day. If you follow @baffled on Twitter, every day he tweets a word for the Haiku Challenge. And many of us have a good time trying to come up with a Haiku that uses that word. Well, today’s word was “gangly”. And when I saw the word, the first thing that popped into my head was an image of the current generation of female runway models. That resulted in my firing off several Haikus, which you can find on my Twitter page. Then I got a tweet from @NotOneNotTwo, who apparently whole heartedly agreed with my opinion expressed in my Haikus. And so a blog post was born…

All of my life I have had a problem with the idea that a woman’s body should look like that of a twelve-year-old, pre-pubescent boy with some fake breasts added on to the front of it. It was bad enough that, as a young person, my realistic feminine body always had to be juxtaposed to that absurd, unrealistic idea. However, for today’s young woman, the pressure is even more unbearable. And as a mother of three daughters, I am even more keenly aware of body image issues. No matter how young they are, our children today can not escape these images and messages about bodies.

If you happen to be reading this, and you don’t care for even more explicit conversation, please close this page now. I’m about to get quite honest here.

First of all, to anyone who may not yet be aware of this truth, female bodies do not look like stick figures. I find it interesting that we live in a society obsessed with breasts, and yet we refuse to embrace the type of female bodies that have breasts. Wake up men (and women). Breasts do not naturally occur on long, lanky bodies. If you happen to like breasts, you are going to find them on women whose bodies are equally as full in other places. And furthermore, real breasts sag. Get over it. It’s just the way it is. Yes, we do our best to hold them up with push-up bras and underwires. But if you want to see real breasts when a woman takes off her clothes, expect them to be sagging if she is over the age of about 16. Clue number 1 about fake breasts: they don’t sag.

Second, real women have hips. Third, we have guts. Fourth, we have rears. Fifth, we have thighs. Sixth, the older we get, the bigger they get. Seventh, having kids completely ruins/re-arranges your body.

Did Rubens look at the women who inspired his painting, The Three Graces, and say to them, “Oh, if only you could lose a little weight”. “Have you ever considered trying to keep your caloric intake to 1000 calories or less a day?” “Perhaps if you exercise just a little more or spend just a little more time at the gym, you would be worthy of something I would paint.” No! He knew better. He knew better because he knew what women look like. And here we are, over 400 years later, still, deep in our hearts, agreeing with his ideal. I have not yet seen his paintings being torn down from walls of art museums around the world and being replaced with naked photos of today’s runway models. Nor will it ever happen.

In looking back now and thinking about what I looked like in my late teens and twenties, I see that had I been alive during the late 1500s or the late 1800s, and between the ages of 18 and 30, you had best believe that I could have proudly posed nude for a Rubens or Renoir painting. And believe me, today, 420 or 120 years later, you would still be looking at me with awe and admiration. I am now proud to say that what I look like, and the body that I have, has stood the tests of both time and art critics everywhere and is hanging in art museums everywhere around the world.

Perhaps it is just the fact that as one gets into their forties, they finally begin to leave behind some of the youthful insecurities about body image. Who knows? But when I was in my teens and twenties, I wish someone had said these things to me. Instead, I was trying to force my Renoir body into a mold that was meant for a 12 year old male.  And I was trying to do it because I had always been made to feel that that was what I should look like. Instead of holding up Rubens or Renoir as a realistic ideal, those around me were constantly “encouraging” me to eat a little less and exercise a little more in order to achieve a body that would be “desirable”. Needless to say, it never happened. I always have looked, and still do look like a Rubens or a Renoir. Sadly, it has taken me 42 years to finally start to think that it might be ok. And, sadly, I dare say, I’ll never get to the point where I’m able to completely accept it. And, unfortunately, society is still doing it’s best to try to convince us that woman should somehow do whatever they can to force their bodies to look like young boys. It’s not only a false and absurd notion; it’s sick! There’s no other word for it. And I, for one, have finally had enough! I’m not denying responsible eating and healthy exercise. We all would do well to practice that. But what I am tired of, is feeling like I always have to apologize for looking like a woman. No more. I’m done!

Oh, and just for the record, my husband loves sleeping with a Rubens or a Renoir.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

High Tech Cheating

- Or Is It?

For those of you who follow my blogs about teaching, I'm back to an education related blog...

Well, these days there are scads of articles out there on the internet condemning the "high tech cheating” in which our current generation of students engages. While I’ve linked to only a few, a quick Google search will provide you with myriad more. So here I am, blogging again… As a teacher, I guess I’ll put my opinion out there.  Since I am a math teacher, my students are not required to write research papers and such, so I don't have to worry about issues of plagiarism or failing to cite sources.  But many other types of "cheating" still apply.

So, there is concern within the teaching community that students are using their cell phones or other hand held computer devices to gain access to the internet to search for exam answers, text answers to friends, call ahead to someone in the next hour class to warn them of a pop quiz, take pictures of the exam to send to students in other classes, and whatever else clever ways they can come up with to, as they perceive it, fool their teachers. As a result, teachers and schools are scrambling to come up with ways to out-maneuver the students. Apparently the most popular technique has been, and continues to be, attempting to ban cell phones or other hand held computer devices.  And schools have set up "big brother" situations where they expect students to dime each other out.  I have just one quick thing to say… Hello,… Hello…. Earth to teachers…. Earth to teachers…can you read me… come in please… what planet are you living on???

Well, that felt good to get the juvenile sarcasm out of my system. Now for a little bit more mature of a presentation…

Ladies and Gentlemen, please take a minute and think. Have you been paying any attention at all to the world of science and technology? We are likely less than a decade away from things that, less than a decade ago, were considered pure science fiction. Never mind hand held computers. You hand will be your computer! You won’t need to use your thumbs to text answers around the room. The world will be imbedded in your clothing and maybe even under your skin. And then what?  Shall we start doing strip searches?  Or maybe we'll have eye glasses with a side bar for checking stocks and news. Shall we pluck out our student’s eyes on the way in the classroom door? How about Wolfram/Alpha?  Access to that might be sitting in a computer chip under our skin soon. Shall we skin the students alive as they walk into our classrooms?  Granted, there have been days when a student or two has made me feel like doing just that, but not because of technology!

Ok, ok, so our students are “cheaters”. Let’s pause here for a minute and stop focusing on our students and focus on ourselves for a bit. I’d like to consider teachers as “cheaters”. No, no, I don’t mean you cheated your way through high school or college. I know I sure didn’t. I sweated, cried and panic attacked my way through an undergraduate degree in Mathematics. Then after much therapy – kidding, kidding… After a break I went back for some more time in academic purgatory.  And with the help of frequent migraines and copious amounts of coffee, I completed my M.Ed. I wrote my own papers, did my own homework, memorized math formulas until they came out my ears, cursed Theory of Calculus regularly, popped Ibuprofen like it was candy and walked away from the experience with a 3.6 GPA, of which I was very proud. But what made me the happiest was that it was over, forever. I would never have to go back and do it again. The torture was over. I was thrilled.

So when did I become a “cheater”? I became a “cheater” with the advent of the internet!

Despite the fact that I grew up in a generation without the internet, or even a graphing calculator for that matter, I have come to appreciate the internet very much. I use it to look up information all the time. I follow other educators on Twitter, I read the links they send, I “steal” the ideas they share. I discovered Ning – something I didn’t even know existed a few months ago - and now I belong to two different math groups.  I can’t wait to read posts that other teachers put out there. I “steal” lesson ideas that I find.  I “look up” graphing on web sites when I forget what I’m doing , I pop over to Wolfram/Alpha to make sure I didn’t make a mistake when I’m working out a math problem. Twenty-five years ago I could have rattled off Descartes’ Rule of Signs off the top of my head. Today I Google it. And how about this: anyone out there know a good strategy for finding asymptotes for a rational function? Anyone? Anyone? How about graphing some transformations of f(x) = a ^ x. Anyone? What? No takers? Well truthfully, at the moment I can’t remember either. And I’m the math teacher. But if you wait just a minute I’ll Google it and get back to you.

Now, I suppose one could argue that I since I did endure the torture of two undergraduate degrees and one graduate degree, and since I did it all "honestly", I have somehow earned the right to now use the internet for convenience. I disagree. I use it for the same reason that my students use it.  And that is because it is the world I live in. Period.

Now, all that said, please understand that I am still a teacher at heart. I thoroughly enjoy the level of mathematics that I teach, and I do feel that it is very important that my students be able to make conceptual connections from simple problems to much harder ones. I try to present the material in a variety of ways so that they are actually learning some math. I try to calm their fears and encourage them to push on. I try to teach them the skills so that they can feel confident with the subject matter instead of being afraid of it. I always stress the importance of working through a problem from start to finish and I tell them to go ahead and talk themselves through it so that they are thinking about what concepts they are using in order to solve it.  I try to make them work through problems in an orderly way. And some of my students do tell me that they feel like they have actually learned the math instead of just memorizing “stuff” in a state of panic. And it’s a good feeling when I hear that. So for those students I continue to try to become an even better teacher. I do not teach Internet. I teach math. However, I do use computerized homework problems with step by step examples. I encourage my students to watch e-professor work through the homework problems, write down the steps, print it out and bring it to class to use for notes on an exam. And, yes, in my classes you can reference your homework and notes during tests. I encourage them to take out the solutions manual and refer to it frequently. I tell them to use every single help button available to them on the computerized homework.  And I know that what I am about to say will disappoint many of my colleagues, but here it goes... No, I do not feel that any of that is cheating.  It is their world. To me it seems absurd to deny them the tools. And furthermore, I would rather they actually learn something by making use of the tools, than have a friend text them answers on a test.  Or even if all they learn is how to find the information for themselves, that is still far better than having a friend use their cell phone to take a picture of the test in the 10 o'clock class, and then pass it on to the students in the 11 o'clock class.  Knowing how to find correct and useful information, and then use it to further your goals, is what our world is all about.  As the matter of fact, I frequently point out to them that if they use the computer and the computer notes, then they are pretty likely to get the problem right. If they have a friend text the answer, the friend may be wrong. And in all honesty, when they are testing, if I see someone get stuck, I look at the paper and give them a “hint”. Why not? I’d rather point them in the right direction or tell them where they missed a step and have them start again from that point, then have them text a friend and ask for an answer. And I tell them that right up front. Furthermore I tell them that they’ll be more likely to get a better grade if they “cheat” off me than off a classmate, because it’s a pretty sure bet that I know the math. Sometimes if a student does poorly on a test, (although, honestly, I don't know how it's possible considering all the "cheating" I allow) I tell them to go through the test questions on the computer, fix them, and then re-take a similar test for a better grade. Why not? Isn’t it better that they actually learn something by correcting mistakes then be discouraged by a poor grade?  But here's the real reason I do it... It is a technique that prevents my lazy students from getting away with not studying. I pretend I have no idea that they blew off doing homework and studying.  Instead, I tell them that I’m quite concerned about their grade, I don't want them to risk failing, and I make them test again. So I’m a bit of a math sadist. So what?

Now there are some things that I do find very, very annoying, and that I do consider cheating. The students know as well as, or better than I do, that there are dozens of sites at their finger tips that will do the homework for them. Some will even print out the steps for you. For a small monthly fee, you can find web sites that have "tutoring" available where you digitally send them your homework and they return it to you all completed. So if a student has a teacher that demands that written work be handed in, no doubt they've made good use of those sites.  And when students refuse to do anything at all for themselves, I consider that cheating.  And it makes me angry.  With the amount of legitimate on-line help and tutoring available, and the amount of help buttons available to them that are part of the computerized homework I use, there is absolutely no excuse for a student to get someone else to do the work for him/her while he/she sits back and does nothing.  And yes, I have those students.  We all do.

But I also have students who are legitimate learners.  And for those students all tools should be available.

So does every one of my students walk out of my class a mathematician with a love for math? Obviously not. Do they all take my advice to heart and use the computer for a learning tool rather than a means for cheating? Obviously not. Like any other teacher out there, I’ve got cheaters in my classes. But technology did not create them. A cheater is a cheater. Cell phones and computers did not create cheaters, and banning cell phones and computers will not cure cheaters.

In the end there will always be cheaters.  Don't deny other students helpful tools in an attempt to beat the cheater.  The cheater always has an ace up his sleeve.  It is the nature of who he is.  Teach your students the subject matter.  Teach your students how to use the tools to enhance the learning process.  Attempt to teach them the value of putting some effort into honestly learning something in your class.  And when they do, encourage the effort they put forth.  Adjust your thinking to the world in which they live.  And by the way, in case you haven't noticed, it is not the same world as when you went to high school and college.  When you went to high school and college you had to memorize until your head hurt.  And the more you memorized, the "smarter" you were because you could consistently perform better on exams than the poor soul who just couldn't cram it all in there.  Well here's my advice to teachers from that generation: Get over yourself, and fast.  Memorizing didn't and doesn't make you smart.  It simply was what you had to do to survive in your world.  And that world is gone now.  The skill set that our students need to survive has changed.  Here is just one of many things I've been watching and reading lately.  I think this clip does a very good job at driving the point home.  Accept the fact that technology is not only here to stay, but it is getting better and more convenient by the minute.    And as for the cheater?  Well here's my advice.  Be smart enough to never challenge him to a game.  Because let's face it, you're going to lose.

 I know I'm behind on my blogging, but one of these days I'll catch up. For those of you who were following the blogs about our summer vacation adventures, I will return to The New England Inn to finish the story. But I've had this blog sitting on the back burner for several weeks, and I wanted to get it out there. As I said in my very first post, this blog spot will be going wherever the wind or the moods take me... I also have another blog that I'm working on that will be talking about Classroom Presenter. Wow! Great tool! Check it out!  A friend and co-worker introduced me to it just this week. I'm using it from now on. But more on that later...