cheesemonkey wonders

cheesemonkey wonders

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

More on katamari and speed demons #MTBoSBlaugust

Gotta squeak this one in under the #MTBoSBlaugust wire. :)

In the world of meditation retreats, what I've come to think of as "Emotional Breakdown Day" of a five-to-seven-day sesshin is pretty much always on a Wednesday (or Day 3, if the retreat doesn't start on a Sunday). You can set your watch by this. There is something about getting psychologically and emotionally heated up that happens after you've been simmering for three days. I think this is true at all spiritual retreats around the world. At a three-day retreat like Twitter Math Camp, it comes at Day 1.5. All of a sudden, Twitter and blogs are flooded with snippets or full-on geysers of despair at how great everybody else seems to be doing and how totally crappy you [INSERT YOUR OWN NAME HERE] are as a teacher.

I have tried to learn not to take this seasonality personally, but it's hard not to. When you go deep, you get invested.

This cycle seems equally true for me during the school year. Week 3 is inevitably my emotional breakdown week. I can no longer keep up the pace (or the illusion of the pace) and the kids can no longer keep it up either. So things start to break. Students act out. Norms fall apart. I lose my shit.

This is just the nature of the cycle of practice. Like winter, or hurricane season, or the World Series, It. Happens. So the real test is how I am going to deal with it.

I changed the seating chart in 7th block and rolled out my best rethinking of katamari and speed demon problem-based learning practice (see "Lessons from 'Lessons from Bowen and Darryl'"). I put the speed demons with other speed demons so they would leave my katamari alone already. I want the katamari to learn how to trust their own minds, their own guts, their own hearts. They lack confidence. But put a bunch of them together, and they have no choice but to trust themselves and each other. Without the speed demons to carry them along, they have to think.

And I tell you, my friends, it was magical.

I revised the day's problem set to put the Important Stuff at the top (though I never label it as Important Stuff — that gives it too much weight for teenagers, plus too little weight for everything else), instructed them to get one table whiteboards, two markers, and a washcloth and I yelled, "GO!" I think the yelling is a particularly artful piece of instructional practice.

The room began to hum and glow in the late afternoon fog. This freed me to question and support the groups that felt particularly stuck — to help them get just unstuck enough to keep going.

They didn't even care when they worked beyond the time limit I had set for this work.

I especially loved the spontaneous alliances that formed across difference. After the first really juicy problem, two young men who hadn't said 'boo' to each other in the first two and a half weeks — a young black student and a Chinese-American student — gave each other a particularly complicated, multi-part handshake than made my heart smile. A table of girls cheered when they finished the same problem.

This is why I believe that getting students into a state of flow when they are doing mathematics is the most important thing. If you align yourself with everything we know is good and healthy and whole about doing math, then everything else will proceed smoothly.


  1. I love this post. That's all. Just love it - I've read it three times already. It really speaks to loving your students, and understanding what they need - to learn math, to learn to believe in themselves. I'll probably read it a few more times. - Wendy

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