The thing about being a first-year teacher is that you make a lot of stupid mistakes. It’s completely understandable, first-year anythings make a ton of mistakes. But I always felt much worse making mistakes as a teacher because I’m affecting these kids’ future. Plus it’s a hell of a lot harder to go back and correct deeply ingrained misconceptions than it is to go back and change some cells on a spreadsheet or some grammar in a report.
Last year, when I was up way too late planning for the next day, I would always try to predict where my students would get turned around. I worked my butt off to anticipate all of their mistakes. And then came the day when kids didn’t know the difference between and angle and a side. I was flabbergasted, so I asked another teacher friend, and they were like “oh, yeah, you have to be very explicit.” It made me realize there is a whole treasure trove of information out there that experienced teachers can pass along to less-experienced teachers.
And these don’t necessarily have to be huge revelations. There were numerous times when I would teach something in first period, I would realize that the way I worded something was messy, and I would fix it for third and things would go much better. The goal here is to make First period more like third period, so third period can be even better (h/t to Tina for describing it like this).
There’s already a great website out there called mathmistakes.org by Michael Pershan which has dozens of examples of student work and invites other teaches examine the mistakes that they made and think about the misconceptions present. This is an awesome activity and a great thing for professional development among teachers. But to be blunt, I didn’t have time for that every night, especially my first year of teaching. For practical reasons, I needed a quick list of the top 3-5 misconceptions that students have or mistakes that teachers make for the topic I was teaching in 12 hours. Even if I didn’t figure out the best way to overcome those misconceptions and mistakes, I’d at least be able to anticipate them and not have my lesson handicapped.
So I’ve decided I want to start a project, using other teachers as resources, to document a lot of these mistakes and misconceptions that students have. I’m not really sure the best way to do this, so I’m starting out simple. I’ve created a Google spreadsheet (link below) that we will use to collect all the different information from different teachers around the interwebs. When I get enough information (and enough time) I will start putting the information on a nicely designed website. Right now the spreadsheet is only available to edit for anyone with the link, but if this takes off I can make it more public. Also, please let me know if for some reason this isn’t working, I only sort of understand how Google docs work.
One last note before I publish this: There may be some overlap between this project and Nix the Tricks, at least at first. Several misconceptions are due to teachers in the past using tricks instead of proper instruction. However, I firmly believe that there are misconceptions and better phrasing that exist outside of the tricks frequently taught to students. So for now we’ll deal with the overlap and in the future we can work on eliminating it.
So get to contributing! And again, let me know if there are any issues and I will work to rectify them.
** Huge thanks to Julie for checking over my google doc before I sent it out. And to Tina and Max for letting me bounce ideas off of them.