Teaching Tip: Stepping Outside the Comfort Zone

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The PLC (Professional Learning Community) will be providing the teaching tip of the week throughout the academic year in support of their goal of interdisciplinary collegiality.

Over the past year, I have attended many conference sessions and webinars. One of my favorites was via Edweb.net (a free resource I highly recommend). “Creating a Culture of Problem Solving in Your School or Classroom, presented by Gerald Aungst, Supervisor of Gifted and Elementary Mathematics for the School District of Cheltenham Township in PA” was not the typical choice for me. My background is in the Fine and Liberal Arts; gifted mathematics, even at the elementary level, held a bit of terror for me. What drew me in was his title and I am so glad it did. I would like to share my top three “take-aways.”

1. A different approach to Webb’s Depth of Knowledge Wheel Mr. Aungst urges us to step away from the belief that these levels of thinking must be sequential. I must admit that this was a novel concept to me, always believing in the past that my students have to begin at basics and build on their skills. He likens it to video games, where players jump in without instruction and learn as they go. I’m using this philosophy in one of my classes this semester, where both my students and I have “jumped in” to build, curate and create a professional development website. None of us had all the skills at the beginning of the semester that are needed for this project, but we have pooled our resources, taught each other and more importantly, LEARNED along the way.

2. Chaos is inevitable and encouraged. My favorite quote from him here is that it takes “cognitive sweat” to solve a problem. Don’t be afraid to venture down the rabbit hole that emerges from a student question. This generation is actually adept at “learning on the fly” (think video games again). “Good ideas emerge in environments that contain a certain amount of noise and error,” Steven Johnson, author of “Where Good Ideas Come From.”

3. And finally, Mr. Aungst’s technique of “three before me.” Professional learning networks are at the top of most educator’s to-do lists, so why shouldn’t it be the same for our students. He mandates that when his students have a question, they must search for answers in at least three different resources before they come to him. This was a eureka moment for me. I’ve implemented this procedure for two semesters now and it amazes me how beautifully it has worked. It is apparent to me that in the past many of my students have been trained to memorize information, not to seek it. This policy encourages them to build the skills they need to develop the networks that will work for them on their chosen career path.

In short, don’t be hesitant to attend sessions that are outside your comfort zone. To quote my grandmother, “you just might learn a thing or three.”

Link to webinar: http://ow.ly/K0HkW

~Melanie A. Mason, mamason@uta.edu, Lecturer, Department of Communication, College of Liberal Arts

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