Gifted Munchkins and Me

Just a quick post for today, since I spent most of yesterday at a class for gifted kids. I’ll blog more about the class for sure, because it’s a great program which has taught me a lot. In the meantime here are my main observations from yesterday:

  1. Ten year olds sure love their dystopian fiction
  2. “Game Tester” has joined vet as one of the more popular career choices
  3. When looking at an intensely political diorama featuring detained refugees and dead politicians, most kids will focus on the one guy in the back who is saying a bad word.

Why did you pick that tag line?

Think of an awful teacher.

I’ll bet most people reading this had a specific memory pop instantly into their head. Some experiences with teachers are awful because of something they personally did – like the teacher that told me to stop reading New Scientist or I would never have any friends. But some teachers seem like perfectly nice people that just aren’t very good at their job.

I was afraid of becoming one of those teachers. No, I was afraid of being one of those teachers. That there was some essential quality called “Good at Teaching”, and if you didn’t have that innate spark you would suck forever.

Thankfully, over the last few years I have been able to recognise this perspective for what it is: a) a classic case of ex-gifted child perfectionism, and b) totally unrealistic. We all have within us the potential for growth and improvement. We just have to learn to take it.

So when I start teaching, I will be a flawed and imperfect teacher. I will make mistakes. I will fail to manage my classroom for every minute of every lesson. I will confuse my students, and bore them, and make them think I am an idiot. But that will not be all that I am. I will also nurture, engage and inspire. And every minute of every day will be an opportunity to improve. And that’s what my blog’s tag line is supposed to remind me of.

Keeping Busy – Tutoring

One of the things I’ve been doing to keep my brain active (and my bank account healthy) is take private tutoring students. This was something I did before my teaching degree as well. Back then I was still uncertain whether teaching was for me, but the enjoyment I got out of tutoring helped convince me otherwise.

Now I’ve returned to my old job, this time with a year’s worth of pedagogy stuffed into my brain. And I’m noticing things about my students that I never would have noticed before.

The biggest thing I’m seeing, over and over, is how the classroom keeps moving on to new content and new topics, even when the student hasn’t understood the basics. Needless to say, this can be a problem. How can a maths student solve problems using compound interest when they don’t know how to rearrange an equation? How can a physics student learn Lenz’s Law when they don’t understand magnetic fields?

It seems like the way that we teach – 30 students, one teacher, prescribed curriculum, limited time – is failing these these students. So is this the part where I call for a revolution? Well, not exactly.

I can’t help but think about the findings that show repeating a grade (and therefore reviewing material that you may not have understood the first time) actually leads to worse educational outcomes. Obviously the social issue plays a big role here, but I think the basic idea is that if being explicitly taught something once didn’t make it stick, then just repeating it in the same way doesn’t help. On the other hand, encountering the same skill/idea in multiple contexts can and does help. I remember struggling mightily with a maths topic at uni, only to encounter the same ideas in physics the next semester and suddenly it all became clear.

So maybe teaching compound interest (and graphing, and geometry, and probability) to a student who can’t rearrange an equation isn’t a waste of time – maybe it’s all those topics combined that will eventually teach them the basics.

About Me

In doing the preliminary research for this blog, I came across the advice that bloggers should use lots of headings, summaries, pretty pictures and bullet point lists, rather than expecting anyone to read icky paragraphs.
Look! A squirrel!

So here are the highlights my life in skimmable form:

  • Was born
  • Spent my schooling as the experimental subject of many a Gifted and Talented Program
  • Went to Nerd Camp
  • Did Physics at Sydney Uni
  • Had crisis, switched careers
  • Did a teaching degree
  • Started Blog

Some of my personal characteristic are:

  • Mid-twenties
  • Almost certainly female
  • Likes Cats
  • Has OPINIONS on Epistemology

I hope that some of you have made it to the end of this post, and not been distracted by facebook/loud noises/shiny objects. If you have, why not leave a comment below, let me know that you’re reading?

First, we wait

When I finished my teaching degree in December of 2014, I was both glad for the break and eagerly anticipating my future job. Would it be near my home town, or out in the country? Would I have any senior classes? Was I truly prepared to embark on this career?

It’s now half way through March and I’m still waiting on paperwork to be processed. Which, on one level, is disappointing. Yet I believe that this time doesn’t have to be wasted. This blog will be a chronicle of my preparations for a teaching career, and eventually my experiences in my first teaching position. Beyond that… well, we’ll have to wait and see.

I’ll get there eventually