“Show them cool things…”

I’m so happy about what Vi Hart is doing for a few reasons, many of which are predictable, but at least one of which is worth mentioning here.

An ELA-teaching coworker of mine discovered Ms. Hart’s math doodling videos independently of me, and we were watching them in the multi-disciplinary company of the rest of our Critical Friends Group, when we got to talking.  What we want more than anything, we discussed, is for our kids – in what we’ve come to call their ‘culture of boredom’ – to give extended thought to an engaging, challenging mental task.  For a lot of my students, it’s a big deal to overcome boredom and do…something.  Anything.

Six and nearly one-half years into my teaching career, I’m still slowly peeling back the onion layers of what it means to teach in a “high-needs” school, and I’m always going to be sensitive to making generalizations, but so few of my students have ever experienced the thrill of success at a complex intellectual task.  There’s the fatalism of saying they’ll never be good at something when they’re 16 years old.  There’s the way that even after they glimpse that thrill of success, they quickly revert back to telling me that I have too much time on my hands if I created such a great lesson.  How arduous it is to try to get them to see (it can only happen one-by-one) that no, it’s not a matter of needing to get a life: that we’re finding ourselves fascinated?   That is life!

I’m working to make sense of these ideas, and will continue to work at it.  But for now, back to that conversation I was having after watching some math doodles.  We all decided that we’re going to make a point of showing the kids cool shit more often.  Sweet WCYDWT’s are a start.  Doodling videos are another (although my kids just say that Vi talks too fast).  I work with some of the most fascinating folks in NYC, and we’re all going to make an effort to just be ourselves more often and pursue our projects while also teaching.  I’m going to bring my looping pedal to school tomorrow and play with it at lunch, just to see who it attracts (we’ve already got a pretty cool guitar/chess/FruityLoops scene in my classroom on Thursday afternoons, so this will add one more to the mix).  I’m going to pursue mathematical art more freely, and continue to dust off my programming abilities.  I’m going to keep searching for what it means to show them cool things, and I hope to have more to say sometime soon.


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