Monday, April 11, 2011

In other words

Every now and then a student says something that makes me beam with pride. In my last post I asked my current students (particular those in MATH 280 and Calc II) to write and let me know what they needed to help finish out the semester strong. A large number of them responded, offering not only ideas for end-of-semester activities, but pep talks for one another and advice on helping each other across the finish line.

I wanted to pull a rather lengthy excerpt from one student's response that I thought did a better job of explaining what learning...and, in fact, doing...math is all about than anything I've ever said.

In this student's words,

Before college-level math, there was no wrong-to-be-right for a lot of students (myself included). A concept was explained and then you applied it and moved on. Right is right and wrong is wrong.

Especially before this class I would have found it very hard to believe that I could spend 6 hours on a problem, and that 5 of them would be spent barking up the wrong tree. I then would have found it near-impossible to believe that those five hours were vital to the process.

As far as the group work goes, it helped a lot when every time I found myself up a wrong tree, there seemed to be another student or two up there with me, searching for some sort of elusive coconuts. We then climbed down together and gave each other a boost up the next (for better or worse!).

The upshot: don't be afraid to be wrong; you'll almost certainly get it wrong before you get it right, and there's no consequence for going down a dead-end street. I could not have said it better myself. Literally.

I get to hang out with these people all day, every day? I'm a lucky guy!


Anonymous said...

This post was one of three consecutive posts in my RSS feed about not viewing "being wrong/confused" as a bad thing. I found this to be a nice coincidence (I also had a talk with a my father-in-law on the same topic today). Here are the two others:

And the first paragraph of:

Thanks for helping to create a unifying theme to my day.

Bret Benesh said...

PS---that last post was by me.

Kyle J Silva said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kyle J Silva said...

Who ever it was that wrote that must be a really bright fella.

(I deleted my last comment because I said "must have been", implying that I am either dead, or much stupider a couple of days removed from that comment)