Over the years, there have been many people who have helped me in my journey into Mathematics, but one has been there all they way through providing me with guidance, wisdom and humour about mathematics and the study of it. That person is Dr. Brian Mortimer. PhD., but I call him Dad. The reason I chose to start my blog with a post about him is quite simple, I cannot think, talk let alone teach math without one of his lessons, jokes or insights coming to mind. So I thought I would share a few with you,
Math and related lessons learned from my Dad...
Lesson #1: "There is a difference between mathematics and arithmetic."
"What you are doing in elementary school is arithmetic not math. Arithmetic is a part of math, but is its own entity." I am not sure if my elementary school teachers appreciated being corrected when I shared this knowledge in class, but I certainly felt special knowing the difference. To this day I am aware of the distinction and although the distinction may not come up that frequently, I did learn that it is important to use the correct terms while discussing subjects and that teaching students proper math terms can give them confidence.
I do not think my Dad ever told me how to solve a Math problem, although it might have happened one or twice. What I do remember are his questions. He strongly believes that each learner has the ability to find the answer, and that his job is to facilitate this learning with carefully positioned questions. Now, as a teacher I strive every day use good questions. Questions that are challenging yet accessible. Questions that are simple and profound, and questions that allow the learners to find their answers themselves.
Lesson #3: It is not just about getting the correct answer.
It is knowing how you got it when you do and figuring out why you didn't when you don't. Learning takes place in the thinking about the problem and the many different paths one can take to find an answer. Getting the answer is great, but knowing how you got it means you can do it again in another context. If you have written down your thinking then it is possible to see how and why it worked. Conversely if you do not get the right answer then an examination of thinking can show that you knew a lot of the right steps, but got off track at point d or miscalculated 6x3. Recognizing the bigger picture can help students shift from "I don't know anything, because I got it wrong" to " I got a lot of it right and next time I will double check my multiplication. It is not just about getting the right answer.
Lesson #4: Never underestimate the power of humour.
"When you go down to the mathematical swamp beware of algegators and calcudials." One of the many jokes used on the top of assignments in Prof. Mortimer's classes. He would often start his worksheets or test with a joke. I relate this practice to an icebreaker in the classroom, something to break the tension, or stress and get folks focusing on what the task is at hand. The jokes also helped students to realize you can take something seriously while still having fun. In class, I find myself using humour quite often to make a point, change the tone of the class or just to add laughter. Sometimes only a couple of students get it, but those who do smile so it is worth it.
Lesson #5: "Don't let the turkeys get you down."
This lesson is not Math specific, but certainly helps in teaching.
My Dad is still teaching math and arithmetic, and is now working on online video instruction. I keep learning lessons from him through our time together and am grateful that he keeps asking me questions.
Thanks for reading!