Wednesday, September 01, 2010

What I Said Today

[cross-posted on Transparent Algebra]

Today was our Skype session with Professor Garibaldi, and I thought that went well. After the Skype session we only had about twenty minutes left (shortened classes due to a PLC day) so I took that opportunity to talk with my class a little bit. I realized that I hadn't done a good job of conveying my thoughts and beliefs about the class, of sharing my passion, of explaining why I setup class the way I did and what I was expecting from them - and what I was hoping for them.

So here, more or less, is what I said. I'm sure it wasn't quite this smooth, as when I write I automatically correct and tweak, but this is pretty close to what I said (and definitely the spirit of what I hope I conveyed).

I wanted to talk a little bit about this class and why I’m doing the things I’m doing. Mr. Krause, one of our English teachers, is doing a project right now where his students are asking people how they define success. I answered that for several groups of students, but I wanted to talk for a minute about how I’ll decide if I’m successful with you guys in this class.

I won’t think I’m a success if you get a good grade in Algebra, although I certainly hope you do and I’m going to try really hard to help you do that. I won’t think I’m a success if you score well on tests like CSAP or ACT, although I hope you do, and even though a lot of well-intentioned people think that’s how I should define success. I won’t even think I’m a success if you go to a good college and then get a good job, although I certainly want you to do that because I’d like to retire someday and I need you all to have good jobs to support me.

No, I’ll consider myself successful if you turn out to be good, kind, caring adults. If you’re a good spouse, child and parent. If you contribute to the world and to your community and help those around you. If you participate. And learn.

And here’s the deal. The education that I received was a pretty good one. But it’s not good enough for you guys. Not anymore. You see, in a rapidly changing, information abundant world, the people who are going to be successful – both professionally and personally – are the learners. And by “learners” I don’t mean people who just learn what we teach you here at AHS.

Now, I want to be clear, that doesn’t mean I don’t think you should learn what we teach you here at AHS. I don’t want you to go to your second period teacher, raise your hand, and say, “Mr. Fisch said I don’t need to learn what you’re teaching.” Please, don’t do that. That’s not at all what I’m saying. Your teachers here work very hard trying to share important, meaningful and relevant knowledge and skills. And that’s important, but it’s not enough. Because to be successful in the 21st century you’re going to have to be a learner, you’re going to have to learn how to learn, and go after things on your own. You’re going to have to be independent, curious, passionate learners, who don’t just sit back and wait for someone to tell them what they’re supposed to know, but who go out and try to figure things out for yourself. Who pursue your interests, your goals, your passions with intensity, and who actively participate in everything you do. Who go out and find other learners who are passionate about what you are passionate about and learn from them – and alongside them.

To quote myself (sorry), the world has shifted. The world of school, and the world of work, and the world in general has shifted, and so I need you to shift as well, and that’s what I’m trying to do in this class. I’m trying to get you to be actively involved in your own education, to be independent and curious learners in mathematics, even if Algebra is never going to be your favorite subject.

I believe you need the skills I’m trying to get you to learn for three main reasons. First, to be a successful citizen in the 21st century you have to be numerate. In order to deal with all the data that is going to get thrown at you, and to make good, responsible, effective decisions, you’re going to need a lot of the skills we’re learning in Algebra.

And frankly, that’s not necessarily true about all the math classes you’ll take. Honestly, if you take Trig and Pre-Calc, the skills you learn there are very important if you go into the math and sciences, but perhaps not so much day-to-day life for most of you (some folks will disagree with that). But the skills we learn in Algebra you’ll be using every day to make sense of all that data in the world, to be informed voters and decision makers.

The second reason to learn the skills is if you decide that you are passionate about math and science, you need these skills in order to progress to more complex topics and to go deeper.

The third reason – and it’s the one I think is least important but you may think is the most important – is that right now in the short term you have to learn these skills to get a good grade in this class, to do well in school, and to get into college if that’s what you choose. So while I prefer that you focus on the first two reasons, this one is still a valid one for many of you.

And this is why it’s critical you do the assignments I’m asking you to do, like watching the videos I’ve created for you. Those videos are designed to help you master the skills, and to become more independent learners. But they’re also designed to free up class time so that we can become more curious, active learners, in class, and so we can explore interesting (or not for some of you) applications of Algebra like the bike gear ratios or Tim Tebow’s speed at the NFL Combine or a variety of other activities we’ll be doing this year. In order to apply the skills in class, I need you to do the necessary work outside of class.

But in order for that to happen, in order for us to use our class time to be the kind of learners I think you need to be to be successful in this century, your century, I need you to step up and take care of business. I need you to watch the videos, and use them as they’re intended, and do the other things I ask you to do outside of class. And I really, really need you to participate in class, to be active learners. To ask questions, and be involved, and talk to each other, and help each other, and be willing to take risks in order to learn more, even if that makes you a little nervous or uncomfortable. I need you to do more of the talking in class, and me to do less. I need you to do more of the thinking, and the questioning, and the figuring out.

So I’m asking you to please, please consider what kind of future you want, not just for yourself, but for those around you, and make an effort to be as independent, as curious, as responsible, as passionate of a learner that you can be. And I promise that I’ll bring the passion every day and do the very best I can to help you become that learner.


  1. good for you Karl. how lucky your students to have heard that message.

  2. This is a great message for all of us to hear and heed. Your students are lucky and so am I, as a professional teacher, to have heard it too. I love my job and I hope I convey my passion and enthusiasm to my students half so well as you did with the discussion you had with them. Thank you again for a wonderful post. You really don't have any idea how inspiring I find them :)

  3. m.clarke - Thanks. I appreciate the kind words, but I wonder if the kids find it as "inspiring" as we think (or hope) it is. That's always the struggle for me, what is actually going to help them "get it" in the way I want them to.

  4. I completely understand what you mean, Karl, and I wonder the same thing for my students too. Sometimes though, these sorts of messages take time to sink in. The students (particularly during the teenage years) have an image to maintain and unfortunately, for many, disengagement is seen as being the uber-cool thing to be.

    I suspect, however, that the message did sink in, at least for a few and your words and passion that you demonstrate, not only on this particular day, but in the everyday happenings of your classroom, will stick with them. Such is the hope of every teacher, I think. I was fortunate enough to have a couple of previous students tell me they appreciated me a few years after they had been taught by me :) There is no doubt in my mind that you'll experience the same thing, over and over again from your students too.

  5. I think this was a great statement to make to your class. By reading this I wish I was there to hear it, I am a education major at South Alabama and today I was watching a few videos for my class and what you said went right along with them. Your students should be very proud to have a teacher like you.

  6. I am an elementary education student taking edm310 @ USA and I have been assigned to comment on your post. I would like to start off by saying that this was a great post for such a ridiculous statement. I really can't believe that any respectable press would allow something like this to be printed publicly, this goes to show that some people really don't take pride in what they do or say or better yet on how it affects the people around them.