Math Is So Romantic

I’ve been using a new review technique with the students in my Calculus class – speed dating! I wish I could take credit for it, but one of the incredibly creative teachers in the Harpeth Hall math department, Maddie Waud, introduced me to it. The first time I tried it, I was very pleased with how seriously my students took it, and after they finished, they all agreed it was helpful.

To set up a classroom for a speed dating session, divide all the desks into pairs facing each other. I put mine in a large circle.

Speed Dating1

Speed Dating2

At each pair of desks, place a problem for the partners to solve.  There are 18 students in the class, so I wrote up 9 problems. If there an odd number of students, the teacher can fill in and give whoever the solo student is some hints to solve her problem.


Give the students a set amount of time to work together on each problem. I used a timer app on my tablet that I projected to the front of the room.


At the end of the allotted time, the students in the inside circle move to their left, and the students in the outside circle move to their left. The focused interaction during the speed dating session was amazing! Every student worked with every other student in the class.

Speed Dating3

Speed Dating4

Afterwards, we went through each problem to make sure everyone understood how to solve them. Then, time for the quiz.


Silence as a Teaching Tool

silenceThis is a short post about an important lesson I learned early in my teaching career: silence is a teacher’s friend, not something to be feared.

It’s natural for a teacher to do everything he or she can to fill in those awkward times when no student is answering your brilliant questions. After all, the number one cardinal sin of radio and television is dead air, right? In the classroom, every moment must be occupied with either the teacher talking, or students actively responding, right?

However, time runs differently for students than it does for teachers. While the teacher is sure his or her lecture is clear, perfectly paced, and every student is understanding everything being presented, it’s another matter for the students. They are trying to remember and write down what you said four or five sentences back, while processing what you are saying right now. Throw in a question from the teacher, and now they are supposed to come up with the correct answer.

One of the most rewarding changes I made to my teaching style was to slow down and not worry about uncomfortable pauses. Different students process information in different ways and at different rates. They need time to catch up with me, and formulate a coherent response to my questions and comments. If I fill in every awkward silence with the response I’m looking for, students will quickly learn that they don’t need to make the effort to come up with their own.

So, if you’re a new teacher, the best advice I can give you is to sit back and wait when you pose a question to your students. It will be awkward at first while you stare at each other, but soon they will appreciate the fact that you value their input enough to give them time to properly compose it.

(Hat tip to my colleague, Katherine Zimmer, who reminded me of this during an insightful conversation this morning.)

I’ll leave you with Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence”:


Setting the Tone: Music In the Classroom

Something new I’ve been doing this year is have some music playing in my room as my students enter at the beginning of a class. They have responded most positively to classical music, believe it or not. When we are doing collaborative work, they usually request solo piano music (Carol Rosenberger’s albums are very popular), Mozart, or Bach. Another favorite is Christopher O’Riley’s solo piano transcriptions of Radiohead songs (his rendition of “Let Down” is the track playing above). Having this music in the background definitely sets an atmosphere of high intellectual pursuit, and I believe my students are more productive in class because of it.