Despite more than ten years of experience teaching mathematics at Rockhurst, I had a wonderfully humbling experience at the Exeter Mathematics Institute problem-based learning workshop this past week. Math teacher Patrick Curran, Math Department Chair Joe LeRoy and I spent four 8+ hour days working through mathematics problems written by the faculty at the Phillips Exeter Academy.
A few lessons learned from this great week:
- It is so much fun to work on difficult, but insightful problems! With well written problems, the process of trying to solve the problem is much more enjoyable than actually finding the solution.
- The Exeter faculty members almost never lecture. They simply ask the students to write some work on the board and then the class discusses the approach and where to go next.
- The problems are difficult, but accessible. The most important lesson learned from the problems are lessons involving grit and effort. Working your hardest is far more important than actually finding the solution. An Exeter faculty member said that this resulted in many alumni becoming successful due to the fact that they were not afraid to tackle new and challenging problems - they had 4 years of practice at Exeter!
- Board space and materials for hands on learning go a long way towards helping solve problems, which makes me feel good about the new redesigned classrooms at Rockhurst.
- The problems motivated me to improve other skills, such as writing lab reports (for the math labs) and learning new technologies (such as google sheets and Desmos).
- The workshop was hosted by the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. Over 40 teachers from Catholic High Schools and Grade Schools in Cleveland came together at St. Ignatius and worked on problems together. What a great way to build relationships!
I hope that Rockhurst will be able to host an EMI workshop for area Catholic Kansas City schools this upcoming summer. How wonderful would it be to promote a RHS STEAM value of problem solving with area teachers. Perhaps then, we could continue to collaborate (another STEAM value) to solve other problems involving the education of the students in our care.