“Can we have more homework?”

Student: “Mr. Seris, can we have more homework.”
Mr. Seris: (trying to wipe the weird look off of my face) “Sure, but why?”
Student: “I just love math and I only have 3 problems tonight for homework and I want some more”
Mr. Seris: (dumb look on face again) …huh, okay then…(walks away confused)

I am not sure why this was such a strange request for me to hear. The strange look on my face was one of 3 things:

1. Misunderstanding – not really knowing why the student would ask that.
2. Confusion – about the request itself, I just don’t know if I have ever heard that before in such a serious tone.
3. Embarrassment – at the gross reality of severely underestimating some of my students.

I would like to speak to the latter, because it is the interesting one. I have been reading a LOT of blogs lately trying to make myself better. This blog is the result of 3+ years of silence and inner voice coming out of the search for this something better and today was another day of fueling the search.

I realized today that I know how to teach. I mean to say, I have the whole “first you combine like terms, second you eliminate the constants, third you do opposite operations…etc., etc.” down to a science, but the part where I need development is creating perplexity and fueling inquiry.  That student came up to me and in the simple question of more homework and the stunned silence that followed, they revealed the chink in my pedagogical armor. The chink is my neglect of challenge for the upper echelon. I need to work on challenging the abilities that these students have, beyond the process, beyond the pure calculation, the real thinking behind mathematics that I myself love. I recognize this attitude, I had when I was that age, it is the inquisitive mindset that I have now that makes me search for something interesting…

Is my class difficult enough?…does it challenge my best and brightest? No, I don’t mean is it difficult to succeed, I mean, is it hard enough to challenge students’ present thinking about mathematical processes and push them toward something more complex. Do they go beyond the x’s and o’s to places of application and integration? Certainly, there is a demographic of students in any class that are challenged by the math itself, there are those who are sated by the joy of completion, but what am I doing for the contingent at the top? How am I pushing those mathematical minds of the future who need the challenge of something seemingly impossible?

I have severely underestimated a key contingent of my students today, and I have plans to change that tomorrow. Let the search for better continue…

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