Hi I’m Rachel. I’m a high school student. I need your help with a book I’m co-authoring.
Imagine you are sitting in math class. The room is stiflingly hot. Your teacher is droning on and on about factoring, something you really couldn’t care less about. The kids next to you are passing notes, quietly murmuring. A stifled burst of laughter. Your eyes start to droop. Your desk is such a comfy pillow. You’ll just close your eyes for a few minutes, and then you’ll pay attention. Just a few minutes…
It’s a classic problem. Let’s face it, everyone gets bored sometimes. What should students do when they get totally bored in math class?
Lots of people have invented different coping strategies. When Vi Hart is bored, she doodles. When Trachtenberg was bored, he mentally manipulated numbers. The Happiness Project says to notice your surroundings, or to just plain keep trying. In internment camp, Pilates invented, well, Pilates. When Gauss was given boring math exercises to do, he invented an algorithm to make them go faster so he could do something interesting. What should you do when you’re bored in math class?
I’m collecting input for my book and I want your ideas. Please reply with them. Thank you so much!
Posting for a young friend - MariaD
This is not exactly an answer, but it is a related passage from a YA novel that I just finished reading (and loved!) -- The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp:
A lot of people might consider Algebra II with Mr Aster--aka, Mr. Asterhole--the most boring place on earth, but my theory is that boredom is only for boring people with no imagination. Sure, if I actually paid attention to Mr. Asterhole's monotone drone, then I'd be bored too, but there's not much chance of that.
I would often wonder what the teacher was going to do next. That doesn't work with all teachers or all students, but every once in a while classroom boredom was a very positive experience for me because of this. One day, for example, the teacher was working on adding up the series of integers: 1+2+3+4+...+n. While the teacher was taking an algebraic approach I started visualizing this as squares stacked up in columns. They mostly form a triangle but with extra little triangles on the top of each column. The area of that shape was the answer, which I got at the very same time the teacher finished their derivation. It's hard to describe this geometric approach without a drawing here, so I'll leave that for you. The benefit was that I still easily remember the visual and resulting expression now, almost 30 years later. Perhaps this is a constructivist approach to learning. It's not that this visual approach is better than the algebraic one, but it was best that I ignored the teacher for a while and came up with my own way instead.
Rachel, I think this is a good question, because so many students find themselves in this uncomfortable state on a daily basis.
If I could advise my high school self on how to make the most of those moments, I would first remind myself of the many wonderful games and ideas that were spawned when I was bored as a child. I think most adults can recall those times, as a young child, when the "there's nothing to do!" restlessness pushed them to make a wild obstacle course or write a play or create their own game. It's your mind calling you to do something creative. So as hard as it would be, especially if it happened every day, I would say, here's an opportunity to at least find some new thought and it will be a thought of which you will be totally in charge.
Then I would suggest trying to think of a way to teach this material to a young child. Forget how your teacher is doing it, how would YOU make it fun and playful? How could you make this into a game? Got any young children in your life? Try to teach it to them. Maybe they'll ask an interesting question that will make it fun.
I would say, go learn computer programming and some maker skill, like sewing or woodworking, and then ask yourself, can this material in any way be useful for making something? And don't worry, you don't have to be an expert at programming or making or whatever the boring topic is - novices can be really excellent at finding new connections, because they are not set in their ways.
And if I found myself bored day after day, or if I found I had no time outside of schoolwork to pursue making and playing and teaching, I would ask myself... is it worth my time to continue this path? Maybe taking regular high school classes is easy and convenient and it will help unlock other doors. But maybe the answer at the end is to find another way to get there (college? career?) from here... college classes? online classes? homeschool? internships?
Make connections with what you already know (likely and unlikely), make connections with your other class studies. Make new order. Best.
Image to convey reflection of your own mind from: