“Observing”

I’m documenting efforts to observe the educational context we wish to influence for a project to create math instruction that is more oriented with multi-media. I decided that it made a lot of sense to observe (and sort of interview) my math-whiz teenage son Alex. So we sat down this weekend and discussed his trigonometry math instruction and homework, which he showed me on his laptop (seen below). I was looking for answers to these questions:

  • How is the instruction designed and delivered?
  • How is he receiving it? It is working well, poorly, somewhere in between?
  • What about it is working or not working?

I took a bit of an ethnographic approach and had him show me things while I asked lots of open-ended questions. Here is some of what I learned:

Alex quickly focused on a specific resource – a helpful youtube video that he felt was done really well. He said that the explanations of “the why” were helpful, and that primarily because of this he instantly understood it. He said examples were not needed over coming weeks because he already understood from one viewing – he didn’t even watch it additional times. He wasn’t sure if it was because of the instruction itself or because the concept was easy, and it was only a two minute video.

But I could see something of what he meant. The instructor focused on showing the idea, drawing out multiple examples, showing three different examples and building out drawings while gesturing with his hands (such as rotating his fingers to show rotation). Alex said the trig concept made more sense when the instructor drew in lines and angles – because previously all the teachers did was just tell how to do it but didn’t explain why and how it works. This seemed both key, obvious, and inline with what we are trying to achieve. The instruction not only showed things (dual coding), but gave relevant background information that explained “the why” as well. I’m sure there is much in the literature about this, but it was wonderful to see it played out in front of me.

 

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