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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Become a Teaching Expert


I read.

I read ALOT.

I read novels, non-fiction books, news articles, journal articles, Salon, blogs, and horror shows masquerading as mathematics textbooks.

This paragraph by Peter Norvig, first read, I don't know, a couple years ago, has stuck with me. I have it tagged and revisit it every time I feel like I suck at teaching math, to remind myself that four years is not long enough. Freaking Mozart: age 4 to 17. The mother-flippin Beatles: 10 years between clubs in Liverpool and Sgt Pepper. etc. The lesson, besides TEN YEARS, is PRACTICE WITH QUANTITY.
Researchers (Bloom (1985), Bryan & Harter (1899), Hayes (1989), Simmon & Chase (1973)) have shown it takes about ten years to develop expertise in any of a wide variety of areas, including chess playing, music composition, telegraph operation, painting, piano playing, swimming, tennis, and research in neuropsychology and topology. The key is deliberative practice: not just doing it again and again, but challenging yourself with a task that is just beyond your current ability, trying it, analyzing your performance while and after doing it, and correcting any mistakes. Then repeat. And repeat again. There appear to be no real shortcuts: even Mozart, who was a musical prodigy at age 4, took 13 more years before he began to produce world-class music. In another genre, the Beatles seemed to burst onto the scene with a string of #1 hits and an appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964. But they had been playing small clubs in Liverpool and Hamburg since 1957, and while they had mass appeal early on, their first great critical success, Sgt. Peppers, was released in 1967.