Scott Self - Mentor Teacher
By: Scott Self (2001)
Mr. Self comes to teaching math to adolescents with learning disabilities from an unlikely route. He began in the business world. After his last child finished college he decided to follow his passion-teaching students to understand the concepts of math. This led him to the Chelsea School in Silver Spring, Maryland.
He began his career in the military as an infantry officer and helicopter pilot. From there he earned a Masters in Business Administration from Fairleigh Dickenson University. He has over 23 years experience in various engineering positions. His last position was Director of Program Management.
His unique gift to the classroom? He knows how the math concepts he teaches are used in the everyday work world. He also comes with the patience of a parent who has helped his children find a successful road to college.
Since adolescents often get frustrated with the "hard core" subjects like Upper Division math, LD OnLine staff decided to visit a Geometry class designed for students with learning disabilities.
Mr. Self's philosophy is to allow students to see that "working toward a solution is just as important as getting the right answer."
Mr. Self keeps manipulatives and examples of how to solve problems in front of the students at all time. The class is organized around steps in a problem. Students work through the steps. Mr. Self says that this helps them if they get lost. This reflects his sense that knowing how to solve a problem means learning the patience to walk through each of the steps. He stated that in his role as an engineer and industry results of a project were not always clear at the project's inception. "Creating a project is a task on knowing the steps and then applying them to the problem at hand."
The "Cheat Sheet" is the class name for the guidelines of the steps towards a problem's solution. This could be a graph paper with the steps of the geometric equation spelled out, or the textbook, or the written steps to problem solution that appear in the room. In addition, Mr. Self puts the written content on the board in front of the room and then spends time reading the written content outloud and showing the students using manipulatives what these statements mean. To demonstrate quadrilaterals he had tinker toys plastic manipulatives in different colors to demonstrate line size and lines that were parallel.
Students are encouraged to use the "cheat sheets" to help them solve new problems at test time.
What are the three questions students most often ask?
I'll never use this when I leave school so why am I learning it?
It isn't just the learning of the math that is important. It is the structure and process of solving problems you encounter every day in life. In school math is just the vehicle for doing it. Beyond the things like balancing your checkbook and paying bills what you learn in math is a way to deal with things that are unfamiliar or that you can't solve immediately. You learn to move from a place where you don't know what to do to a place where you see something familiar and can move forward. You also learn that even if you don't know something you can find someone or something that can help you. It all revolves around organization and structure - doing something familiar in unfamiliar situations.
If I can't do this by myself, what good is it to me later?
Most important things in life you don't do by yourself. At work, which is where most of you will spend a great majority of your life, you aren't by yourself. In later learning environments such as college and at work, you learn to function as part of a team. Team learning and team execution and performance become what is measured. Being part of a team means you are not alone. You are part of a group that has many resources. If you don't know how to do something, more than likely some other member of the team can be counted on to assist you. You will also be a resource to someone else in his or her time of need. Remember that TEAMS are put together because not everyone has the same skills and many different skills are needed to solve complex problems. Some are technical, some are organizational, and some are analytical. Where you fit in the team depends on what skill you bring to the party and EVERYONE has skills.
I hate math. Why do you like it so much?
I like math because it has helped me meet some very interesting people in my life. It continues to provide me with that opportunity. I get to meet people like you - the students in my classes. What I teach my students is small compared to the things I learn from each one of my students throughout the year. That is worth much more to me than you can imagine.
In addition to the "rules" and theorems used in the Geometry class, students at Chelsea School can also apply concepts in art classes and elsewhere around the school. "Many of the students in my classes also have excellent talent in art."
The Chelsea School's art room is extensive and filled with student art. The school's corridors also reflect the student art. Students have painted an ecology project along a stairway and down the halls.
"Talk the talk," says Mr. Self as he asks a student to solve the problem he has placed on the board. The student has the concept correct but has not labeled the axes on his page. Mr. Self presents the solution to the class saying something is wrong. The group works to see that the student had the right answer but that Mr. Self had turned the page the wrong way so that the answer seems incorrect. Mr. Self demonstrates to the students that if you have followed the steps and thought about how the rules apply you should have a good solution. "Trust in your solutions," he says. "I made the 'mistake'. I turned the page upside down. What would help?" "Oh I see," the student then replies. His classmates chime in. "You forgot to label the axes." The student saw the need for labels and he felt good because he now knew his solution was correct.
One final teaching tip: Stump the Teacher! Occasionally, give the students a chance to test you on a particular lesson. You can make it an individual assignment or a team assignment. If they can make up a question or a small quiz and you can work it, it shows that they understand the process of analysis and can create a problem to test it.
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