The Education Machine: Where do we start?

I’m taking a course called “Issues in Transforming Education” and reading Zhao’s Catching Up or Leading the Way, which are are going to influence what I feel compelled to write about as well as draw my attention to related items shared on the MTBoS. (Did I mention how fabulous it is to have a professional community, even just being a listener and observer?)

As you know, the call to change math education and even the institution of education has been around for more than 40 years (actually, it’s closer to 60, thanks to Kennedy and Sputnik), as evidenced by Dan Meyer’s recent post.  As I read Ed Begle’s speech (linked in Dan’s post), I was intrigued by his explanation of the development of the proximity fuse.

“The developers build a radio set of the proper size, and then threw it out
of the window onto the pavement of the next door parking lot. They then
retrieved the set, opened it up, and looked to see what had broken.
The broken pieces were replaced with stronger ones, and the set was
then thrown out of the second-story window, and so on until they finally
had a set of all parts of which were strong enough.

I have the impression that in education we have been trying to construct
an atomic bomb rather than a proximity fuse, and that we might very well
have been better off right now if we had tried to make small step-by-step
improvements rather than spending all our time looking for major breakthroughs.

…the question arises as to where we start.”

Where indeed, especially since his second law is “Mathematics education is much more complicated than you expect, even though you expected it to be more complicated than you expected.” Of course, this law holds for all education, not just math.

The reality is education is an extremely complex machine with so many, many radio set components. Which ones, if any, are more important than others? Which are obsolete? Which ones, if thrown out the window, examined, and improved, would start a chain reaction and a need to improve others? Which ones, if vastly improved, would provide the biggest bang for your buck?

Educators (like you) who work hard at growing professionally strive for improvement all the time. You work passionately and tirelessly at improving the parts of the machine that you have the most control over- your pedagogy, your class culture, your expertise.  You know that the changes you make in your daily practice truly matter.

Like you, I have been focusing my attention on change, and am so grateful for all of the incredibly intelligent and thoughtful work that is shared online. Change is far too complicated and important to be done in solitude; teaching requires simultaneous use of and examination of/improvement on the classroom component of The Machine.  It’s demanding, exhausting, and exciting.  While I have more questions than I have answers, I am developing a few half-baked thoughts about changes that I believe are manageable, and if implemented broadly, may have significant impact.  I know my ideas are not particularly original (I consider many of you on the MTBoS much smarter wiser and more experienced than me),  but it helps me to grow if I have a way to organize and share them.  .

What is the biggest change you have implemented in your daily practice? Why? In what ways has it impacted student learning or improved your practice? Is this change specific to the topic you teach, or can it be applied across all content areas?  What changes do you think have the Biggest Bang?


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