“It’s All in the Numbers” [VIDEO]

In the first presentation of the 2010-2011 Power of Teaching lecture series, Damon Bahr, an MSE mathematics education professor, told the audience they were going to learn some important things about teaching from math.

“How many blocks does it take to make a 100-block-high staircase?” he asked. He divided the audience into groups to work on a solution to the problem.

After giving the audience time to discuss and discover ways to solve the problem, Bahr asked the groups to share. One group said they solved the problem by what Bahr labeled as “simplest case reasoning.” The group counted all the blocks in a ten block-high staircase and then used what they learned to solve the 100 block-high stair case problem.

“In mathematics, patterns from solving simple cases can often be applied to bigger cases,” Bahr said. He then explained that teaching can be one of the most complicated of jobs. “Is there a way to wrap our minds around teaching using simplest case reasoning?” he asked.

The Power of Teaching Lecture Series, sponsored by the Department of Teacher Education, aims to validate those who are already education majors and to recruit more students into the program. All are invited to attend the next Power of Teaching lecture on January 27, 2011 at 11:00am in Room 115 MCKB. Teresa Leavitt, MSE Teacher Education faculty member, will be presenting."

Bahr shared a few personal examples of complicated situations he has experienced in his 32 years of teaching. One year, an elementary student kept failing to finish his homework. Each day he stayed after school to finish it, though Bahr soon discovered that the student was deliberately not finishing his work in order to stay longer at school. “You can still hang out with me after school, even if you finish your homework,” Bahr told the student. The student began finishing his homework on time after that, but remained after school for one-on-one time.

Another year Bahr noticed a depressed student in the classroom of a student teacher he was supervising. Although Bahr admitted that supervisors and teachers shouldn’t always do what he did, he gave the student a red pen. Years later, Bahr ran into the child, who had since been hospitalized for his depression. “Do you recognize me?” he asked. The child said, “You’re the guy who gave me the pen. That was one of the best days of my whole life.”

“What’s the simplest case here?” Bahr asked the audience. Finally he expressed that the simplest case in teaching is love: “Teaching is always about love. Teachers love their students so much that they figure out a way to reach them. I want you to be able to give your students a pen when they most need it.”

3 November 2010