August 15, 2021

Scott Phillips

More Important Than Beating the Clock: Creating Depth in Our Future Generations

Topics: Education

Bowl of Lemons

The year is 1998 and the last place I want to be is at this school desk. Time is ticking away. My eyes dart up and then back down. Kids around me have wrapped up their test and started getting restless.

With about 75% of the questions remaining, the teacher announces 5 minutes remain.

I’m always told to take my time, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in this situation. In order to not look foolish, I panic and fill out the next few bubbles.

The Problem with Time
This situation has occurred in classrooms for decades. Is it possible to have trauma from experiences like this? I believe the origin of anxiety in our classrooms comes from the pressure of time.

Jo Boaler, a world renowned mathematician, says:

“Math trauma extends across our country – and the world – due to the ineffective ways the subject is often taught in classrooms, as a narrow set of procedures that students are expected to reproduce at high speed.”

How many things within the real world are based on time?

It’s difficult to find real-world situations that require things being done as quickly as possible. In education, time is irrelevant and depth is the key to long-term understanding and retention.

The upcoming generation of students are unlike any other. They are constantly giving their attention to social media and an overwhelming sense of self worth in how many followers, likes, and shares they’re able to obtain.

Most people don’t realize that despite those obstacles, this generation has an abundance of creativity, a caring and giving attitude towards others, and a desire to boldly accomplish great things.

If we limit our kids to what they can accomplish under high-pressure (timed) situations, then we are holding them back from developing the necessary grit to solve some of those “ungoogleable” questions that will inevitably arise in their lifetime.

The phrase that has stuck with me is that math education has become “a mile wide and an inch thick”. Due to this lack of depth within the current practices, kids don’t enjoy math as much, and pursue less jobs that require problem-solving skills.

Here is the good news, it’s not too late to change.

I’ll be starting my 12th year of teaching this next school year. To say that I’m a different teacher, compared to when I first began, is an understatement. Growth is a huge part of my life, both personally and professionally. The reason I say this is that I was a “timed multiplication test” student growing up in the 90’s.

I’ve also had the experience of state testing being timed. Luckily, they’ve gone away from that, but the reason I’m telling you this is that one of the most dangerous comments in education is “this is how we’ve always done it”, or “this is how I was taught, so it’s the only way to teach.”

What are Employers Looking For?
According to the BU Center for Career Development, employers are looking for the “ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the in a team structure..make decisions and solve problems.. plan, organize, and prioritize work.”

None of those qualifications require those things to be done quickly. Growing up, my dad always told me “if I don’t have time to do something right the first time, then I certainly won’t have time to do it over again”.

Time is relevant in the workforce in a variety of ways, but it’s irrelevant when it comes to problem solving, working within a team structure, and prioritizing workload.

Employers can teach a skill, but what they can’t teach is character, attention to detail, and pride in an individual's work. I’ve always taught my students that the best problems worth solving aren't found within seconds using a device.

It’s never too late to change your current practices as an educator. Change requires humility and hard work. It’s an easy decision to keep the same routines and oftentimes become overwhelming to try and go against the grain in education.

The bigger the district you teach in, the harder it will be to get everyone on the same page. But you can help your students gain a growth mindset, build confidence in themselves, and rediscover their excitement for STEM education. Time is out and depth is in!

Author’s Bio

Scott Phillips is a 7th grade math teacher at Aurora Middle School in Aurora, Nebraska. He will be starting his 11th year of teaching middle school in Nebraska. He works hard to instill confidence and a growth mindset in his students and tries to show them how to relish the challenge that math presents, making it an enjoyable experience for all. Away from school he enjoys time with his wife and three little girls, and creating videos for his classroom YouTube channel with his cousins Bobby Joe Fry the Math Guy and Nigel the Math Explorer.

A Note From ThinkFun

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