Using Television to Demonstrate How to "Do The Math"
There's a great unifying staying power to television that seems to give a unique credibility to the images projected. It was the first medium in which we, as an intelligence, were able to location-shift to distant destinations, time-shift to past-moments, and reality-shift to fictional universes. The capacity of the medium to draw us into an active "now" set the table for our present level of connectedness, for better and worse.
It's through this lens that I've taken pride in my contributions to "Do The Math" Bakersfield's longest-running education program. In its 16th season, "Do The Math" boasts a primary academic function of providing homework assistance to those who might not have access to support. Call an on-air tutor with a homework problem, and we will solve it for you on the air.
More recently, though, the show has allowed viewers to experience the realities of learning in the modern classroom. Whereas a majority of parents may only observe the inside of a classroom on their child's parent-teacher conference, "Do The Math" regularly brings its cameras into the space with students to model current practices and instructional strategies for curious audiences.
In this regard, I've been grateful for the opportunities that the program has afforded me as both an in-studio and remote co-host. As an instructional specialist and academic coach, I've used the show to model rigorous practices, discourse structures, and conceptual strategies that teachers generally brush off with "I can't see how that would work in my classroom."
The general in-studio component of the program involves a guest student who will work on tasks or caller problems. The students generally come from the GATE program of one of our city's school districts, and have demonstrated a quick facility to calculate values. My focus with these students is to go beyond an algorithm, and explore conceptual models that these students may have been sped past or have had minimal exposure to. When their path is diverted to an unexpected alternative, their thinking is joyously challenged and (generally with a parent observing in the wings) rewarded.
Initially, the idea was to visit a school and have 2-3 students model how to solve problems, as if to replicate the studio experience. On one of my first visits, a room of 20 students was prepared by the after-school program, of which I would select three to support, and the rest would just kind of...watch. This sounded all too familiar to the traditional classroom experience for so many math students. I sought, then, to change the visual to one of lively involvement, discussion, and mathematical modeling. I demonstrated math language routines like Same or Different or Which One Doesn't Belong, rolled out butcher paper for collaborative workspaces, presented 3-Act Tasks and Open Middle problems, and in doing so made thinking audible to all of our viewers.
In the Real World
Likewise, our program has been fortunate to be partnered with wonderful community partners, who have graciously and warmly welcomed us to their places of business to model the exact kind of math and concepts our students were exploring. Instead of maneuvering an imaginary triangular garden's hypotenuse, viewers heard how Chevron engineers use the Pythagorean Theorem as a structure to remotely divert power to oil pumps. An art museum curator explains and models the industry equation for the height at which to frame a painting, instead of a mythological model for buying cookies with change. One of the biggest myths of math instruction is that somehow a word problem is somehow synonymous with "real-world" problems, and our visits allow us advocates to shatter it in real-time.
These experiences have had a three-fold enrichment impact on my understanding of pedagogy and instruction. Firstly, I've been able to see the broad spectrum of approaches used in classrooms throughout the city, and leverage that into ideas to bring to other teachers. Additionally, working in a live TV setting provides an extra lens to the improvisational and time-constrained nature of working in the classroom. Most importantly, it reassures me that the answer to "when will I need to know this?" Is present in the most unlikely of professions: the one they'll end up in.