Math majors who are interested in teaching are the toughest group of learners. They really are. They are in a mixed science / math class, so they band together. They reinforce each other’s beliefs that the way they have been taught math is a great way, because they have been successful in learning math that way. They then fight against any notion that math can be taught any other way than the way they have been taught.

The struggle is real.

Except last week, in an introductory class, I had a break through. One of the learners asked if a better way would be to have a learner go to the board and do a problem.

I had an aha moment. I asked THEM what they did when a teacher had a learner at the board. They unanimously agreed they tuned out.

Perfect.

Then, I asked how many of them tuned back when the teacher took over.

They agreed that maybe 30% of them did tune back in. The rest (these are all science / math majors who were successful, mind you) said they just relaxed and let the teacher work.

Next, I asked, “If you are the successful learners, how many of the rest of the class tuned back in?” The agreement was unanimous, no one.

My last question sealed the deal for them.

“If only 30% of the successful students tune in, and none of the unsuccessful students tune in, why do you think the way you have been taught was successful?”

The silence was deafening.

That small exchange finally made them think about what success and failure is in teaching.

Success is not the teacher working and the learners listening.