One day, Ali, a 9-year old boy was enjoying his fun time with his parents in a mall. They needed to buy notebooks and stationeries for school purposes. However, while they were walking to the bookstore, Ali suddenly walked away to see a toystore. As soon as Ali got distracted, his parents quickly said, “Ali! Where are you going?”
In my opinion, this story is a common one, isn’t it? It is very likely that we have such an experience, be it as the little kid or as the parent. Children, at often times, do not have enough strong willpower to consistently focus on what they really need to do, their ultimate goal. As a result, when they look at other things that seem more interesting, they could easily get distracted and shift their focus from their initial goal.
Such a scene is easily used to reflect on or discuss things related to leadership or life. However, right now I want to connect this story with how we should learn and educate.
As a math teacher, it is very easy for me to reflect on this scene. Why? Let us recall our experiences in learning maths at school, be it in the primary or secondary level. How many of us enjoyed learning math? How many of us really learned math in the right way? How many of us learned math by merely memorizing formulas and procedures?
I do understand that it is so possible that we could do little to nothing when we are talking about the teaching and learning process at school. Probably, because our teachers and parents took control of it. However, let us now take a position to reflect on our experiences, trying to position ourselves in both positions, a child (or student) and a teacher (or parent).
I have learned that learning math should not be about:
- memorizing formulas,
- only following procedures,
- using only one method to solve a problem,
- working alone,
- learning without communicating or justifying ideas.
On the other hand, learning math should be about:
- thinking deeply,
- understanding the origin of a concept and a formula,
- identifying and analyzing patterns,
- discussions and exchange of ideas,
- visualization to help understand math concepts and problems.
Our goal for learning should be the latter one so that we could really make our math learning (and other learnings) meaningful in which we could get the benefit from learning that subject eventually. However, we have to face another reality. We, be it because of the effect our teacher(s) or parent(s) or even probably because of our own wrongdoing, often choose the former method of learning that is hurting. Why? At least, there are a couple of reasons that I reflect on:
- Memorizing formulas and concepts looks/feels easier than to understand them.
- Following procedures feel more efficient and comfortable rather than to think.
- Finding more than one method to solve a problem feels troublesome and tedious.
- Discussing and exchanging ideas feel troublesome because we need to interact and respond to other people’s ideas.
- Using visualizations is troublesome. I don’t even understand the first way of looking at it, I don’t want to do more to teach that.
In short, the first way of teaching and learning feels/looks easier to do than the second one, whereas there is a need for much more effort, energy, time that we need to exert. The thing is, we often forgot that the long term effect is much more significant and useful if we choose the correct way, the second way. The first way (or other ways that seem easy and fun) might be attracting our attention, but not always the best choice and impactful option in the long run. In fact, people who learn by following the second pathway have more honed thinking skills, and as a result, more ready in living their lives compared to those who chose the “easy way” (there are studies on this).
As we could see in learning, so we could see it in life. The question is, Where are we going? Which path that we want to take? The rocky and winding road today often lead us to the better road in the future. In contrast, the smooth looking road that we take now might actually distract us from the true ultimate goal we want to pursue. Worse, later in life, we complain about things as if we were the victims, but actually, we were the actors.
So, where are you going? Happy reflecting.
I provide some examples of how I see math learning should be done (based on my learning journey). You could watch them through my videos on my YouTube Channel. The only problem is that they are all in Bahasa Indonesia. If you don’t understand it, probably you could share them with anyone who needs a little bit of inspiration.