By Viktor Grigoryan, Math Curriculum Coordinator
On April 27, we met in Room 2 for a lively conversation about Math and our vision of how it works at Acera. It was a lovely night, with lots of small-group and whole-room discussions. As part of the larger conversation, we touched on the connection between education and relationships. While we tend to sometimes use the terms learning and education as synonyms, there is one significant difference between the two.
Learning may happen in different contexts – individually, in a group environment, concurrently with another activity – but ultimately it is the learner who does the learning. Education, on the other hand, is fundamentally about relationships: those between students, between students and teachers and between student-learners and the knowledge area.
These three relationships are interdependent: when the relationships with the other students are not working, a participant in a class may feel out of place, like they don’t belong in the practice of learning that subject, or that their voice doesn’t matter in this context. When the relationship between the teacher and a student is not working, the trust towards the teacher as a guide in the student’s learning exploration may suffer, leading to a decrease in the motivation and eagerness on the student’s part. And if the relationship that the student forms with the knowledge area isn’t positive, the learning will be suboptimal, and the human relationships in the class will suffer as well.
On the other hand, an improvement in any of these relationships will positively affect the others. A teacher having a great relationship with their students will infect them with their enthusiasm for the subject matter, warm and working relationships between students will reinforce their identities as learners in that class and give them a deep sense of belonging and mattering. And when students have a positive relationship with the knowledge area, the human relationships in the class will only flourish due to the common interest.
Strong teachers understand and value this interdependence of relationships, and frequently leverage them towards students’ growth as learners.
The knowledge area itself can also be the basis for relationship building – having a common strong interest makes us humans come closer to enjoy this shared interest. In other words, Math can be a bonding activity.
Recently, some students in my Mathletes creativity station asked me if they could take the sheet with problems home with them, as they wanted to talk about the problems with their parents. A parent, with whom we happened to arrive at the school together a couple of days ago, mentioned that they had discussed the “Olga-Tanya” problem at home (see below for the problem, if you haven’t seen it yet). A few students have now stopped me in the hallway and asked about, or mentioned that they had solved that same problem, even though I had no idea that the problem had reached their class.
After every Math contest we host, the hallways are abuzz with mathematical conversations – students asking each other and the teachers about certain problems, or continuing to collaborate on some of those problems. Math is indeed a bonding activity, and that’s another reason we math-enthusiasts enjoy it so much!
The Olga-Tanya problem:
Two friends, Olga and Tanya, live in separate towns some distance apart, which are joined by a single road. One morning at sunrise, the two women set out simultaneously to walk to the town of the other, each walking at her own constant speed. The two passed each other on the road at noon. Olga reached her destination at 4pm, while Tanya did not arrive until 9 pm. When was the sunrise?