Friday, May 18, 2012

on (math) ed: outsourcing lesson plans?

admittedly, i wouldn't have thought of this:
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“I had an insight that the materials teachers created night after night had monetary value, so I set out to create a marketplace called Teachers Pay Teachers,” Edelman told Mashable. “Teachers are now making a pretty significant supplemental income and creating higher quality materials.”
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~ from "Kindergarten Teacher Earns $700,000 by Selling Lesson Plans Online" @ mashable
i have no doubt that good, well-tested teaching materials are valuable.  even something like an example or an analogy, one that makes a particular concept absolutely clear to students, is definitely worth sharing.

for example, i teach convergence and divergence of infinite series, by comparing it to hollywood teen movies:
say you're a character in a hollywood film about teenagers and high school.  for simplicity, let's assume you're not one of the cool people, but want to be one.

so it's friday and we hear that one of the cool kids is having a house party.  naturally, you want to go.  you and your equally not-exactly-cool friends show up to the right neighborhood, but there's a guy standing at the front door, letting kids that are "cool enough" in and keeping "uncool" kids out.  being shy and insecure, you don't know if we're cool enough to get in.  so what do we do?

if you see your really cool friend apollo walk to the door and get turned away, then you won't be able to get in either ..

if you see your really weird, lame friend hephaestus walk to the door and get ushered in, then come on! you're certainly cool enough to get in, too ..

.. but if apollo gets in and hephastus doesn't, then we still don't know if we're cool enough to get in.

on the other hand, to actually sell your lessons ..?
it's not that different from writing and selling a textbook, i suppose.  the difference is probably akin to buying a music album vs. buying just the song you like.

i guess mine is more of an open-source or creative commons kind of mindset.  if it serves the public good and if i don't need the money, then why not make it publicly available so that everyone can use it?  a few of my colleagues make their lecture notes available on their websites; i do the same with my in-class quizzes and solution guides [2].

there's one more thing, but it has more to do with politics than teaching:
the common bias is that teachers don't work very hard.  i've heard the slurs that "they have the summers off" and "work only a few hours a day" and "since they are part of a union, they must be lazy" .. all of which miss the point entirely.

so if the public hears that "teachers don't actually write their own lessons," then that's only going to make it harder to argue on behalf of teachers and public education .. \-:

to be fair, in an ideal world, teachers wouldn't have to buy good lesson plans, because they would prepare the materials themselves.

on the other hand, in that same ideal world, a teacher's salary would be a livable one, their workload would actually fit into an 8-hour day, and teachers would have all the available resources and state funding they need to do their jobs well.
thinking about it now, the sale of teaching materials isn't a problem, so much as it's a symptom of a larger societal problem.

[1] this is just an analogy for logical implication, of course, but for some reason it helps a lot of my students .. probably because of the ridiculous nature of the example.  as a mechanism for memory, however, this isn't the worst of approaches: see #7 of this wikihow, for example.

[2] as for why i don't post my lecture notes:  most of the time, my notes are more of a script than a document.  those handful of pages are meant to remind me of what i want to say, what i want to stress, and what i can add if there's time remaining.  (it's rare that i intend for anyone else to actually read them.)

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