Why Study Math? A new way to begin the year...

on Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Syllabus Shock i.e. the first day of school.

Why do we do this to ourselves? To our kids? That, I don't know. But I do know that by the time my students get to my 4th hour class, their ears have stopped working. They can't listen to syllabi any more! Instead of participating in this cruel ritual, I start the year asking my students the question, "Why study math?" If we are going to spend the next 9 months learning math, there better be a pretty good reason as to why.

I adapt a lesson from Kuyers Mathematics to help my students who are suffering from syllabus shock. They have great resources for math teachers in Christian high schools and their first lesson entitled, Why Study Math? is the basis of my first week of class.

The first day students look at rationales for studying math provided by a variety of people throughout history - Descartes, Bertrand Russell, and St. Augustine compose a few of the quote sources provided. Since the text is fairly dense, and students brains are not quite awake after summer, we break into groups to analyze what reason for studying math each author suggests. The group collectively comes us with their reason, if they think it's a good reason or not, and why. Students write their group's work on a whiteboard and then they are able to have a visual to use when they explain their quote to the rest of the class. Usually this sharing and presenting will not get completely done in the first day, so that continues into day 2. This is a great introduction also to the expectation that every student should contribute to the collaboration, and that this will be a class where conversation is encouraged.

The second piece is to look at verses from the Bible, and how they help us think about why we should study math. We do this in a similar fashion - splitting into groups and sharing our discoveries.

On the third day students are asked to do some personal reflection on this topic. Students have not yet had a chance to reflect upon what they think in light of the work from the previous two days. I had students complete a reflection page in a google doc and submit it to me electronically. They were asked to reflect upon some of the quotes, probed about their understanding of why God made us able to comprehend mathematics, and led to create a document they can use later in a senior faith project (a requirement for Seniors at my school).

This activity sets up the the rest of the year. After these few days, students are able to understand key elements of my course that I don't know how to put into words for a syllabus. I want them to talk. I want them to collaborate. I want them to think deeply about things that matter.

What do you do during the first week of school to combat syllabus shock?


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