Fractions and Wholes, a reflection by Kara Fox

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This morning, we taught an LTP lesson about fractions at Shalom School. Adrian and I explained to the students that fractions are all about the parts of a whole, and talked about the idea of complements: how every part has another part that fits with it to make something complete. For example, if I eat one third of a pizza, there are two thirds leftover for later, and together, three thirds add up to one whole pizza. We asked the kids for other examples of real-life fractions, emphasizing that everything they can see in the world is made up of smaller pieces.

I could think of one – the process of teaching reflects the material that we taught. There are eight of us Duke students and we are about as different as it gets. Though we have varying teaching styles, strengths, and weaknesses, each individual has to come together with the others to teach as a team.

We often find ourselves in unexpected situations due to miscommunication and have to adjust quickly. Bouncing ideas back and forth with another person in the moment makes this necessary improvising a lot easier. Yesterday, we were observing a sixth grade civics lesson about the advantages and disadvantages of watching television when the teacher said, “Okay, now our visitors are going to come up and tell you more about this lesson.” This announcement completely took us by surprise, but we got up and walked to the front of the room. We paused for a moment and made eye contact with each other – an unspoken “we got this” – and then Adrian began speaking, moving a piece of chalk across the blackboard. “Another disadvantage of television is that it takes a lot of time.” Amused by this classic busy-Duke-student answer, I jumped in: “One show can take up to an hour to watch. What are some other things that you can do with your time?” Students’ hands shot up, snapping. Instead of TV, they answered, they could study, exercise, cook, do chores, or play sports.

Adrian and I had never learned about the perils of television directly in school, but were able to tap quickly into our own knowledge and play off each other to create a quick, meaningful lesson. When one of us needed a moment to think about what to say next, the other sensed the hesitation and started to speak. We complement each other well.

Aside from being able to work together as a unit, everyone is a good teacher individually, which is seen from the changing effects on the class when a certain person starts to talk. A fun teacher holds students’ attention and has them smiling, leading games or cracking jokes during the lesson. A firm teacher keeps control in the room and challenges students to think harder and deeper, demanding respect and maintaining expectations. A quiet teacher is trusted by the students and approached when they have difficulty with a task, easy to talk to and share ideas with. Added together, these parts make a strong group.

It’s funny how teaching is very much a learning process. We can prepare our supplies and our lesson plan ahead of time, but in all of our experiences we’ve figured out that we have to adapt to the dynamics of our students and the strengths and weaknesses of our coworkers as we go. We have to listen to each other and pay attention to the needs of others. When we do that, everyone comes together to create a perfect whole.

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