Chapter 18 - Students' Overall Reflections

At the end of each quarter, I asked my students to write an overall reflection of their work. They were not at all surprised at this request, as they were, by now, quite comfortable with writing in our math class. As was often the case, they had much to say.

Jessi wrote the following reflections on her work: "So far in geometry, we have learned a lot. Mostly, we learned proofs, which was a hard concept to grasp at first. But little by little, with help from the teacher and each other, we began to understand proofs better and better. Geometry so far this year has probably been one of my harder classes, but I think it is my favorite. At first, I hated proofs. They were the most annoying things in the world. They just didn't make sense to me. What was even more irritating was that my classmate Blaine was always going on and on about how proofs were fun! But after awhile I began to get the idea of how to do them, and I totally understand them now."

Blaine was right - they are sort of fun, for Geometry. I started to think of them as puzzles, like the "Can You Get Blood From A Stone" game. Come to think of it, if I could have my way, all the tests would be nothing but proofs! When you understand concepts, it makes you appreciate them more. I feel that the student's attitude in any endeavor is just about the most important part of learning. I encouraged the students to try a variety of interesting "extra credit" projects, all of which were related to our studies, and which were designed to show them interesting (and sometimes unusual) facets of geometry. I was very interested in their opinions, and also their thoughts and feelings about what they were learning. Near the end of each quarter I asked them to write a half-page or more, telling me their opinions on what they had learned, and reflections on the process, methods, and assignments.

They said that no teacher had ever asked them these things before, and they were surprised and also quite pleased that they had the opportunity to voice their feelings. Their comments covered a very wide range, from complaints about timed tests to pride in their accomplishments; from enthusiasm regarding the variety of assignments to candid appraisals of their achievements.

I was alternately amused, fascinated and humbled by their thoughtful comments, their candid appraisals, and their enthusiastic responses. I have included some below, just as they were written:

"Geometry has been one of my harder classes this year, but I think it's my favorite. At first, I hated proofs. I thought they were the most annoying things in the world. They didn't make much sense to me. But bit by bit as time went by, I started to think they might not be THAT bad. Then we did that project called "Getting Blood from a Stone" (see chapter 16). I thought that project was really fun, and then I realized that what it was all about was writing proofs! From then on I looked at each proof as a puzzle to solve, and after a while I started to get the hang of it and even found proofs to be interesting, and even fun. (I never thought I'd ever say that!) I really like them now. Come to think of it, if I could have my way, all the tests would be on is proofs. When you understand concepts, it makes you appreciate them more." Jenna

"Proofs! Oh no! I had heard that geometry was all about proofs, and I was not looking forward to that at all because everyone said proofs were a real pain in the ...oops! Blain, who sat next to me, kept saying that they were fun and I thought he was nuts, But after trying a few (with some help from my group!) I decided that they weren't so bad after all. And after a while I really began to get it, and even started liking them! When you understand concepts it makes you appreciate them more." Lane

"One of the things that I want to write about here is the struggle that I had with proofs, At first I just didn't get it at all! Fortunately, we were allowed to work in groups of 3 or 4 students on our first proofs, and this really was great. When I completed my first successful proof, with just a little help from Ben, in my group, I was so proud of myself I felt I could conquer the world! This gave me a positive outlook on geometry. I actually started to like it, which surprised me a bit, but it's true!" Karl

Sometimes I would add a bit of humor to the lessons, and the students enjoyed the occasional joke or cartoon. Renata really liked the cartoon below, and wrote a short essay about how it applied to learning:

"I really loved this cartoon. I think it's actually a sort of math joke, because just like there are different ways to interpret the meaning of the words 'half-way', there are different ways to do proofs, and some are very straightforward, some are long and complicated, and sometimes it depends on how you look at it. So there can be different meanings to 'half -way'! (Also, some proofs are impossible! Ha ha, just kidding.)" Julia

Andrew made the following comments in his reflections on the second quarter: "I thought this quarter was challenging, but also interesting and fun. In writing this summary of my work for the quarter, I would say that the assignments and projects were challenging, but actually sometimes they were fun! In looking back on my work this quarter, I would say the assignments were always interesting, proofs or constructions, word problems or computer geometry."

The students seemed to enjoy the idea of keeping a portfolio of their work, "just like in an art class" as one student said. Another student commented that she was glad to have something to show for all her hard work, and enjoyed showing her portfolio to her parents.

Our geometry class was quite different from most geometry classes, and sometimes I wondered if the students thought that this approach to teaching and learning was helpful to them. But whenever I read their comments and reflections, I was pleased to see that they liked the methods used in this class. In her overall reflection at the end of the semester, Terri wrote the following comments: "All of the pieces I chose to go into this portfolio are very significant to me. When I first started geometry, I thought it was going to be just like every other math class I had taken: calculations, formulas, homework, tests and then more calculations; all the simple no-brainer things I'd always learned in math classes. But as this course progressed, I found myself struggling at times to comprehend all of the new material - proofs, geometric diagrams, even 3-dimensional figures, and then writing about it all! It took a lot of work, but when I finally completed each set of assignments, I got this great feeling of satisfaction, and was really proud of the work in my portfolio. This class really introduced me to a lot of new experiences!"

Mark had this to say: "This approach is great because it allows students to have a better understanding of math. I think this class was better than the traditional approach because usually in a math class you just have to memorize information and then regurgitate it all on endless tests. The strengths of this class for me were that we were expected to really think about things, figure them out, and then write explanations too. If you have to explain something to someone else, you really have to know what it is all about. It might be harder, but this is what learning is really all about. Not just memorizing. When you struggle, try different approaches, figure it out and then try to explain it to someone else, your really learn it for good!"

Elaine wrote the following in her overall reflection: "I think in all other math classes that I've been in, we would do assignments from the textbook, drill worksheets, and tests. I'm glad this class is different because we show different kinds and levels of thinking through our homework, worksheets, writing assignments (both explanations and reflections), group work on projects and homework, and tests. I think that if this course had been strictly rote assignments I wouldn't have liked it or learned as much because since it was balanced with creative projects and writing assignments. All of this helped me to really understand what we were doing, not just memorize facts. I really liked this portfolio type of class because we learned the material in a variety of ways instead of just reading the book and listening to the teacher. It was the first time I realized that the answer to the question 'Who's in charge of my learning?' is 'I am!' And that was really cool!"