Be the Most Understandable

When I was in school, I was one of the worst algebra students. I struggled to maintain C’s, sometime even dialing in a D! And now I’m a professional educator, teaching algebra!

I recently listened to a an interview with Don Miller on Michael Hyatt’s Platform University. The interview digs deep into the notion that stories are what sell a brand. Like it or not, we teachers are a brand. Brand Smith. Brand Jones. Brand Noldy. During this interview Don Miller said something that resonated with me. He said…

People don’t buy the best products. They buy products they can understand.

He continued, remarking that the reason people grew to love Apple products was that Steven Jobs was a master at making technology simple and accessible. I thought of one of iPod’s initial ad slogans: 1000 songs in your pocket. Simple. No talk of gigabytes, processor speeds, etc.

The moral of the “story” is that I realized I don’t need to be perfect as a teacher. I just need to understandable. Sometimes the smartest guy in the room is not the best at explaining complex topics. Sometimes the best guy at explaining complex topics got that way because he wasn’t the smartest guy in the room when he was learning the topics.

Are you great at explaining something that you used to not be so good at?

The Classroom of the Future

Flipped is the way to go

In this 2011 TED video, Sal Khan describes a classroom of the future wherein students and instructors collaborate on more difficult and intriguing problems. How does he propose accomplishing this? By flipping the classroom, of course.

What’s a flipped classroom?

The flipped classroom is so-called, because the learning and the doing are flipped. For example, a teacher assigns a video lecture for homework  — ostensibly one of Sal’s videos. The student watches the lecture at home, then reports to the classroom ready to tackle the tough stuff — the assignments. This allows students to engage in more challenging problems under the guidance of the content expert.

What are the benefits?

As may readers know, I flipped my Stats class — both at Sayre and at Elmira College (where I’m a freelance adjunct). Using the flipped classroom has enabled me to make extensive use of Minitab in the computer lab. Had the students not previewed the content with my curated videos, this would not have been possible. Given the “STEM” nature of students’ futures, Minitab use will be provide a leg up when entering college or the workforce.

Another advantage to the flipped classroom is that students spend more time on the task of problem-solving. In didactic learning, most of the time is spent lecturing with very little real-world problem solving.

The catch…

The caveat? Sal Khan and others take for granted that all students want to learn and will invest the time in the videos before class. Given the corporate climate of most public schools, the flipped classroom is a transitional process. The typical public school trains students to be employees, and so they do not do anything that does not count. Every successful practitioners least favorite question? “Are you collecting this?

Getting started

In the beginning, I had to “pay them” to watch the curated content. How was this accomplished? I call them Quick Quizzes, but they’re just short frequent assessments designed for student accountability. When students know they are being quizzed regularly on the content, they are forced (at first) to plug in. Then it becomes second nature. This is essential, because we all know that life doesn’t reward us for merely showing up. We have to learn how to internalize and work without oversight.

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Course Prerequisites

According to Google, the noun prerequisite refers to a required prior condition that is necessary for something else to happen or to exist; I’m paraphrasing.

In school, a course prerequisite refers to a course, the successful completions of which, is designed to ensure success at the next level. That is, if a student barely manages a D in Math 100, there is a good chance they will also struggle in Math 200. This is the most misunderstood concept of the course prerequisite. Finishing with a D may be good enough to earn a credit, but a D will typically lead to future D’s, or even F’s.

In a perfect world, students would not be deemed to have met prerequisite criteria unless they earned at least a C, if not an A or a B. You see, the ‘taking of the course’ is not the prerequisite. ‘Mastery of course content’ is the intention of the prerequisite.

Any student can take up space in a lecture hall. Plugging in while there will increase not only your level of mastery, but your chances for future success. Then seal the deal by working outside the classroom, i.e., do your homework.

Cognitive engagement in the classroom along with deliberate practice outside the classroom are the one-two punch that will guarantee your success.

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Learning is a verb; it’s something you do. It doesn’t happen to you. You can’t catch it like a cold from the professor; it must be earned through cognitive engagement, hard work, and lots of practice.

M.D. Noldy