Another instructor asked me tonight to talk to him sometime about what made my mathematical modeling class a success.
Where to begin? Love your students, and believe they are capable.
Foster a classroom environment in which everyone is respected, respectful, and everyone’s goals are aligned.
Let students make choices about what they do. Then they will own the work more than if you choose for them.
Don’t be afraid to screw up. Some things will work, and some won’t. Some of the biggest screw-ups will have the most profound learning opportunities. For you and for them. Some of the “failed projects” taught students more than success at some canned exercise would have.
Praise them. Then praise some more. But you can’t do generic praise. You have to look and see the specific things they are doing that are worthy of your words.
Make things meaningful and relevant to them and their lives. But don’t simplify the hard stuff. Let them see the messy. That is what mathematical modeling is all about, the messy interface of mathematics and reality.
Make sure they understand what mathematical modeling *is*, and keep bringing that theme back into their work. Because if they don’t walk out of your class understanding what it *is*, what in the hell have you actually taught them?
Start by figuring out what you think they ought to know and learn from your class. Then design everything you do around those objectives.
Make assignments that you will be eager to grade. That will make your life easier, and their work more interesting. If you find it interesting, they will too.
Don’t be afraid to do something silly or fun because it is silly and fun, the Zombie Apocalypse has been a great modeling project for that reason.
Since it is your job to criticize, make it their job to praise. Make sure they point out to each other the good things they are doing.
Look for success, for creativity, for talent, for competence. And where you find it, nurture it. It won’t always be in those put-together students who always do well at everything. You will find amazing things in your mid-range students and even in your screw ups. Don’t waste those gifts.
Tell them about your failures. Tell them where you struggled. Make yourself a human being to them — let them learn from your mistakes. You don’t have to be right all the time, and you don’t have to have been right all the time. Understand where they are coming from and forgive yourself for those times when you demonstrated their faults.
And did I mention love them? Love them. Love them. And love yourself too. If you bring grace, dignity, integrity, humility and love into your classroom, you will have it returned to you.