Fighting Back Against “I’m Terrible at Math”

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Many teachers, and many people in general feel terrible at math. In the article, The Myth of “I’m Bad at Math”, by Miles Campbell and Noah Smith analyzes this phenomenon and makes a very compelling case for why this is so dangerous in our society.  They say “We hear it all the time. And we’ve had enough. Because we believe that the idea of “math people” is the most self-destructive idea in America today. The truth is, you probably are a math person, and by thinking otherwise, you are possibly hamstringing your own career.”

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I grew up thinking I was bad at math.  Many of us did!  I believe this phenomenon is part of why I’ve never (until now) considered that computer programming was even worth trying to understand. “I’m terrible at math”, is something that many of us feel completely comfortable and even proud saying to pretty much anyone.

When we think about a teacher proudly proclaiming “I’m terrible at reading!”, it does not seem acceptable. We’d all probably think less of this person. So why is it acceptable with math and not acceptable with reading? This is a question all teachers need to examine. There really shouldn’t be a difference between the two.

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Why Coding? Why Now?

Every person and every teacher must answer these questions for him or herself. To add to my full disclosure, I’ll just tell you a little bit about why I am a teacher learning to code. Maybe you will relate, maybe not. There are basically 4 reasons:

Reason #1: My husband (I know…it sounds like a silly reason, but just read on!)

That brain is always going...what does it DO?
That brain is always going…what does it DO?

My husband is a programmer, and I can honestly say that I never even knew what programming WAS until I met him 4 years ago. I still don’t, but I know a little bit more more now than I did when we met.  Sometimes I watch him work and it looks like madness to me…I watch him scroll back and forth between 3 or 4 different screens on his laptop, each with several open windows containing colors, letters, numbers, symbols, flashing, etc…I don’t understand any of it. It looks nuts! I am way less intimidated by the notion of learning to speak Korean!

Since I have this close relationship with a programmer, I’ve been able to learn a great deal about him in all areas of life, and our brains definitely work differently.  He’s a logical thinker. He likes neat, clean solutions to things and yes/no answers. I can’t stand being asked a yes/no question…I’m an educator whose primary goal is to provoke people to think for themselves.  I think that “wrong answers” exist in some situations, but I don’t really believe in definitive “right answers”… I believe in opinions and experiments and actions and consequences, and LEARNING.  I believe learning is messy…and programming LOOKS messy…but I suspect it’s a lot more neat and clean than it looks. (…but maybe not!)

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Full Disclosure

Ok, so I’m a teacher learning to code, but why should you care? I’ll try to paint a picture of who I am so you can decide if you do or not! What comes to mind when you think of a teacher? I’d guess your brain conjures an image of someone like this: (These are the first 3 images that come up when you do a Google Image search for “teacher”)

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Well…I’m not that kind of teacher! (I’m actually not sure these people exist.)  I’ve never written on a chalkboard in front of students, I never rely on curriculums published in books (though I frequently incorporate books into curriculum), and I believe that chalk is best suited for creative use on the sidewalk.

This is me:

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