Thursday, August 22, 2013

Compassion and Imagination

"To be a good teacher, exercise your compassion and imagination; to be a good pupil, exercise your capacity to learn independently."

As we get close to the start of classes, I realize that my time on the golf course will significantly decrease.  Now what does that have to do with the quote above?  I wish this was my quote but it is by M. Scott Peck from his book Golf and the Spirit: Lessons from the Journey.  With classes and golf on my mind, I recalled that one chapter from the book was on teaching and learning.  I have not read the book for several years and so I decided to take it out and this was the first chapter I read.  The book deals mainly with teaching golf professionals and their students but also relates this to psychotherapists and their patients.  (M. Scott Peck, M.D., is a psychiatrist.)  

One of the points he makes is that many golf teaching pros are not very good teachers and that the problem is inherent in their role, which is to teach golf.  Being well-motivated professionals, they want to make sure their students get their money's worth and consequently, they overteach.  Does this sound familiar?  I know that I am often guilty of overteaching.  Peck's point is that such overteaching can create not only an aversion to golf lessons but aversions to golf itself.

Although I have not had much experience with the flipped classroom model, I have found it to be helpful in keeping myself from overteaching.  A lot of responsibility is placed on the student but their work gives us a good place from which to start.  In my proofs class, I will have 5 to 7 groups collaboratively working on problems and as I go around the room, I cannot spend too much time talking with one particular group.  I have to develop my ability to give them ideas and suggestions that may help them get back on track and to be able to do the work themselves and developing a capacity to learn independently is important.

This is one of the big differences Peck describes between experienced golfers (learners) and inexperienced ones.  Even the best golfer (mathematician) will make a truly horrible shot.  However, the professional golfer will then immediately analyze what he/she did wrong to help make sure it does not happen again.  Novice golfers look to an authority (the golf instructor) to tell them what to do.  As mathematics teachers, I think we can take some lessons from this chapter of Golf and the Spirit.

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