Sunday, August 26, 2012

Working for the Man: A Cautionary Tale

This is another post for the mathtwitterblogosphere people. The topic for this one could be anything I want with the catch that I can't reveal its oddity to the reader.

As often as possible, I try to make sure that none of my posts are too vainglorious, but I was honored to have Dan Meyer pass my name on to a company as someone who could write math tasks for their new curriculum. I was hesitant at first since my writing is not very Hemmingway-esque, but was excited to do something different. I love writing lessons for my class and analyzing what works. And now I was getting paid a decent amount of money to do it! Awesomeness.

Turns out, not so much.

I started by working on something I already felt comfortable with: rates and speed limits. I used this video as the introduction for the activity and quickly started working on conforming a lesson to the company's format. But it wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. The format itself felt restricting and I continuously asked myself, "Is this really what they want?" I slowly started to think that this would be a huge time-sucker and it would definitely take away from what I was trying to plan for my regular teaching job. 

Once I was getting paid to write math lessons and had restrictions placed on how that should be done, what used to be fun became work. My school doesn't pay me extra for investing all of my time into my own lessons. And I love the freedom of creating my own work in the format that I choose. Eventually I had to resign the task-writing job.

Since then, I've been reading a book called "Drive" by Dan Pink which was suggested by a former colleague (and about fifty other people). The whole point of the book seems to be that extrinsic rewards stifle creativity. That people do their best when the task itself is rewarding and actually underperform once a reward is offered. There seems to be a huge parallel between the ideas in the book and my experiences this summer. And I've begun to think about how this can also be applied to my classroom. How can I offer similar kinds of freedom when my students are exploring math and problem-solving? How can I limit the use of extrinsic rewards (grades) as a motivator? Will students see my use of standards-based grading as a way for them to control their own learning, or will they see it as another carrot-and-stick routine?

The avuncular, Nathan O Kraft

(Secret message to you know who (not Voldemort): You might be thinking, hey, he didn't use okra. Look at my name again. Snap.)