Friday, June 21, 2013

Try, Fail, Understand, Win

By Dana Ernst and Angie Hodge

“Try, fail, understand, win.” These were the four words written on a course evaluation at the end of Dana’s introduction to proof course from the spring 2013 semester. We believe that this perfectly captures the essence of an effective inquiry-based learning (IBL) experience for a student. Dana couldn’t ask for a better student comment. He should retire now; it’s all downhill from here.
Dana asks a question at the Legacy of R. L. Moore Conference.
The “big” IBL conference is the annual Legacy of R. L. Moore Conference, which recently took place in Austin, Texas. The theme of this year’s conference was “We are IBL,” which was chosen to represent all of the different groups of people engaged in or interested in IBL. This was Dana’s fifth Legacy conference and Angie’s sixth. Dang, what a great conference! It’s amazing to be around so many people who are passionate about student-centered learning. We always leave all fired up to teach and change the world. It was great seeing all our IBL pals and meeting lots of new folks too.
Angie introduces a speaker at the Legacy of R. L. Moore Conference.
If you want more details about what went down this year, check out this post by Stan Yoshinobu over on The IBL Blog.

As we reflect on this year’s conference, “try, fail, understand, win” provides a good outline of the lessons learned.

Try:
  • We try something new in our classrooms.
  • We try to engage our students in mathematics and inspire them to crave more.
  • We try to provide our students with a safe environment where they are willing to take risks.
  • We try to relinquish control, sit back, and see what our students can do.
Fail:
  • We may fail to get “buy in” from our students.
  • We may not receive a teaching award, because someone observing our classroom may not think we are “teaching” since we aren’t lecturing.
  • We may not have the support of our colleagues.
  • We may have students complain to our administrators that we aren’t lecturing enough.
  • We may try something new and it may not go as well as we had hoped.
Understand:
  • We understand how to market IBL to our students and colleagues.
  • We understand the importance of working together as an IBL team; “We are IBL.”
  • We understand that teaching our students to become explorers in a detective story gives them a taste of what mathematics really is.
  • We understand that class time is precious and that we should avoid lecturing on things students can learn on their own.
  • We understand that what matters most is that our students become independent thinkers and learners.
Win:
  • We win when we have taught our future elementary teachers to teach themselves what they don’t know.
  • We win when we teach our students to conjecture and ask why without anyone asking them to do so.
  • We win when we realize that there’s always something we can do better in the classroom.
  • We win when students no longer look to us as the sole authority.
  • We win when our students have the ability to reach conclusions by reasoning logically and are able to justify those conclusions in clear, persuasive language.
  • We win when our students experience the unmistakable feeling that comes when one truly understands something.
Just as our students “win” after experiencing an effective student-centered approach, the attendees of the Legacy Conference “won” if they were at least challenged to ponder how to provide students with a transformative experience.