Friday, February 18, 2011

Learn What Matters

I often think about the St. Mike's motto, Learn What Matters. I think about it in the context of the courses I teach because although both my undergraduate courses are required courses for licensure in elementary or secondary education I still have the "academic freedom" to develop the content of my courses.

This is where I have to really consider what matters both to me as a teacher and to my students who will be future teachers. Time is limited in a 4-credit course so I have to select the content really carefully making sure that the experiences my students have and the knowledge, understanding, and dispositions they will learn, are the most relevant to both their life goals and to my vision of what teaching is all about.

Right now, I believe that what matters most in my courses is that students truly understand what they are learning and that they are equipped with the understandings and abilities to make wise decisions in their lives. The more we understand what we learn, as well as the experiences we have, the more empowered we are to lead full and good lives through which we can pursue personal happiness.

This week in my math course we explored what it means to understand the Base Ten system of place value that we use to count and communicate number. I asked the student what a 'place' was and what 'value' meant. Everyone stumbled around trying to define the terms in the context of our counting system because they were so familiar with the terms and yet, had never questioned what they really meant. After half an hour of working on a variety of activities I think everyone understood that "place" only has meaning in the context of other "places" and that "value" only has meaning if one identifies the referent for a particular place. For example, in 6,284, the tens place only exists, and has value, because of the ones place. Remove the ones place and the value of the 8 changes from 8 tens to 8 ones (tens and ones are the referents).

When you have to teach young children all about our number system, understanding how our number system works is Learning What Matters.

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