Buried Bias

Another provocative post coming at you.  You’ve been warned.

Probability and Statistics classes always rejoice on the days that I teach them how to play dice games.  Today it was Pirate’s Dice (or Liar’s Dice).  I love using this game because it’s simple to learn, fun to play, and actually requires the use of probability rather than just luck.  I found this article in NCTM from December 2012 and have modeled my activity after theirs.  That article is behind a paywall, so this link will tell you how to play the game if you are interested.

Overall, the student’s enjoyed the game and most of them got into it.  I had to move a few groups away from the shared wall because they got a little too excited, but overall, I felt like my goal for them was reached.  Most of them used probability to create a strategy to help them win.  I had lots of students tell me that the game was fun, so you’d think I would just close the week and move on.

Here was the problem:  in one of my classes, I had a group of students who barely participated.  They were in groups of their choosing, alleviating the idea that they can’t work together.  They positioned themselves in the back corner and once I was off helping another group, all members promptly dug their faces into their phones, texting, tweeting, and snapchatting away as if they were sitting in the cafeteria rather than math class.

I definitely could have handled the situation better because I got MAD at these kids.  Not yelling (because I don’t yell ever), but angry, defensive, and accusatory.  They got back to work.  Sort of.

I stepped back from what just happened to assess why their actions set me off in such a way.  A few other kids were on and off their phones when it wasn’t their turn to bid, and I wasn’t angry at them.  Was it perhaps because it was an entire group of 6 people that were disengaged?  An easier target?

I’ve had enough psychotherapy to know that  this had little to do with the fact that those kids weren’t playing as directed.  This had to do with the fact that this group of kids were the “cool kids.”  These were the popular, tons-of-friends, high-status 9th graders who always have a place to sit at lunch, who have a locker in the center of the hallway, and who would have never given a kid like me the time of day in high school.

Nailed it.  My frustration and resentment toward this group of kids had more to do with how I was treated by their “type” when I was in high school than their inappropriate behavior at that moment. In fact, had I nicely told them to get back to work, who knows, they might have happily complied.  Maybe not, but that’s not the point.  The point is that I didn’t give them that opportunity because my reaction was out of emotions from my high school experience.

I don’t do this often, and I’m glad I recognized it right away.  Right or wrong, these kids deserve a teacher that fairly and consistently applies her classroom management philosophies.  And students shouldn’t have to bear the brunt of their teacher’s lasting scars from a high school experience. I’m glad I’m aware enough to recognize this and change my actions.

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