Sunday, November 25, 2007

Catching the Bug

Genuine enthusiasm for the topic is an instructional strategy that doesn' get enough attention. Just think back to the most influential teachers and professors in your life and I'll bet that the vast majority of those teachers had enthusiasm. This month's Educational Leadership magazine from ASCD has some great articles on math, but it was one of their inserts that caught my eye. Take a look at this "Aha" moment from Jeremy Kippatrick, Regents Professor of Mathematics Education at the Univesity of Georgia.

Although I did well in mathematics in high school, it was not until I went to Chaffey College, a two-year college then located in Ontario, California, and took calculus from Arthur E. Flum, that I discovered that learning mathematics could be simultaneously difficult and enjoyable, elegant and fascinating. The moment I realized all this came during the first week of class, when Mr. Flum's infectious enthusiasm for the subject we were about to work on together became apparent. Calculus was a new world for us, but under his guidance, we would succeed not only in learning it but in seeing its power and elegance. I ended up taking every mathematics course I could from Mr. Flum, and when I transferred as a junior to Cal Berkeley, mathematics was the obvious subject in which to major.

When I learned later that research on effective teachers has repeatedly shown that enthusiasm is one of their signature traits, I thought of Mr. Flum. In all that he did—coaching the tennis team, sponsoring the booster club, teaching mathematics—he had a flair for pushing you harder while helping you enjoy what you were doing. Successful mathematics teachers are enthusiastic about mathematics, and that enthusiasm is contagious.

Without a doubt, all of life's challenges will be more successful and fulfilling when we embark on them with enthusiasm. Professor Kilpatrick used the word infectious which describes it beautifully. The receiver doesn't have to do too much to "catch" a cold or flu. One needs only come in contact with someone with the disease. Are you contagious with the love of learning today?

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