Light Bulb Moments

I often hear teachers say “I love seeing the light bulb moments in my students”. I would also put myself in this category, but as of late I’ve tried to figure why I enjoy those moments. What about a student reaching understanding brings me enjoyment?

I figured out the other day where at least part of the enjoyment comes from. I have a fairly strong understanding of high school mathematics and because of this I see connections, different methods for solving problems, and interesting patterns. For me, mathematics is truly a beautiful topic. When a student has a “light bulb moment” it’s when, I believe, they have uncovered a piece of that beauty (I know, they might not see it that way, but stay with me…). I view mathematics almost like an a mountain range. Being the math teacher I have a pretty good view of the mountains. I don’t know every peak and valley, but I know the big ones well and a fair number of the small ones. I can also see the big picture and the awesomeness of it. When a student has a light bulb moment I feel as though I’ve shown them or they’ve discovered a new part of the mountain range they’re seeing for the first time. For a moment they are experiencing the peak or the valley or some interesting nuance that they’ve never experienced before.

Mountain GIF

I created the GIF but the image is “River of Clouds” by Ragnar Jesnen

In addition there is the excitement found in solving something challenging. A minimal sense of accomplishment can be found in solving easy problems. This is part of the reason, I believe, that mundane jobs are boring. A person exclusively solves simple problems. But when a student solves a difficult problem and gets excited about it, I’m taken back to times that I solved difficult problems. There is an inherent joy in solving something difficult or challenging. That feeling intrinsically motivates students to tackle other tough problems. The only thing better than experiencing that moment for myself is sharing it with another person.

I have a daughter who is about a year and a half old. There are countless experiences that are brand new for her and her reactions to new, exciting situations is priceless. I love showing her new things, taking her different places, and sharing in the enjoyment she has in learning or experiencing something new. I find the most enjoyment when that type of experience is replicated in my classroom. Sharing in students’ new understanding and, if only slightly, shifting their view of the world and how they experience it.


Zoii Moon GIF

Finding the moon.

Caterpillar Gif

Checking out a caterpillar for the first time.


The GIF(t) of Curiosity

Recently I played around with Snagit on one of the class Chromebooks and discovered how easy it was to create a GIF. I then tried to figure out how to leverage this in the classroom. What I came up with was a prompt based on the GIF below.

Secant Tangent Line gif

The prompt essentially asked students to recreate the GIF. To accomplish this they had to “get under the hood” of the mathematics. This required them to generalize (they’re used to finding secant lines at concrete points) and that was very difficult for them. We rarely ask students to generalize and when we do, it’s usually is in context of a “critical thinking” book problem that gets skipped. Worse than that, often the teacher ends up doing the problem for them at the beginning of the next class. And even if a student does try it, unless it’s an odd problem, they usually can’t see if their generalization was correct until the next day.

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