Compiled by Anna Solomon of World Class Tutoring

For those who missed it, in February we discussed How I Wish I’d Taught Maths by British math teacher Craig Barton. The following is a summary of some of the discussion points. Please feel free to add more in the comments!

First of all, most of us did not read the book cover to cover. Some of us began with the best intentions and then ended up skipping to chapters we were interested in…fortunately, the author was ready for that! Each chapter stands alone and references past and future chapters in an effort to keep information compartmentalized.

One of the recurring themes of the whole book was cognitive load. If this is an interest of yours, please come to our July book club conversation around Ashman’s Cognitive Load Theory. Barton stated that teachers can easily overload a student’s ability to process what is going on either through enthusiasm, boredom, or expert-level thinking. We talk too much, introduce too many things, try to create too many connections, or, because WE’RE bored, engage in distracting small talk. We want the experience to be fun for both parties.

The conversation kept returning to the idea of whether learning should be fun. Of course, we agree that learning IS fun, but if a student disagrees what should we do? Is the picture of a baseball player on the parabolic function page of their textbook really changing how they receive the information? If we cannot make the math connect to their “real” life, should we try?

Members made some interesting connections between learning a concept and being coached in a sport. Coaches are not concerned with making practice fun. Athletes do sprints and drills to improve their abilities, and they may hate their coach for it, but they see the benefit. Should math teachers take a page from that playbook, if you will? Barton suggested using small, very regular quizzes and tests. Would seeing their improvement there result in the same gains for students? Acing the test isn’t the same as making the winning goal…or is it? Our next book is Golf is Not a Game of Perfect, so we’ll see if Bob Rotella’s thoughts as a coach make new connections for us as teachers.

We also compared learning to practicing a musical instrument. There are scales and drills there as well, and lots of it would not be considered fun. An enthusiastic student, though, would appreciate being able to hold a note a little longer because they had practiced. These muscle-memory exercises could also be present in math and explain why we as tutors can fly a little faster than most of our students. We see markers and flags that tell us the next step where our students see only words. We train every day, probably enthusiastically, and they don’t. As Barton insisted, “Experts and novices think differently.” A good teacher keeps their humility and remembers what being lost feels like.

We did not crack the code on how best to teach math but we came away with some things to think about. We hope you’ll join us for other NTPA Book Club discussions, held the last Wednesday of every month at 1pm. Our next book is Golf is Not a Game of Perfect (Rotella), to be discussed in March 2023, and Cognitive Load Theory (Ashman) is our July 2023 book.