Tangents

Tangent2Todd’s message referring us to Harvard’s Teaching & Learning last week was interesting – and Joe Blatt’s “Three Puzzles of Pedagogy got me to thinking. He states his second mystery is “the paradox of preparation.  I can’t go into a class session without a detailed map of the points I want to convey, plans for discussions and other activities I hope students will find engaging, and an explicit list of the ideas I want students to leave thinking about.” He states further that this preparation gives him the “chance to be more spontaneous.”

I agree, especially when you have class two times a week for 1-1/2 hours. It goes fast!

Going off on tangents – sometimes – is a good thing. I make detailed notes on each class; then I go back and rank my notes – yes, rank them according to the time I have. What’s the most important topic / things I want students to know when they leave class? Oh, I want to give them interesting content, sure, but also some great resources or links to find out more.

But most of all, I want to give them inspiration to go beyond what’s written in the textbook – what’s on the PowerPoint or Video or Prezi – what’s beyond the discussion in the class or online.   I want to give them a reason to look further – to go beyond that day or class’s learning – to be inspired by a story.

So. Think about “tan·gent”; from the Latin tangent, or “touching; from the verb, tangere. Some definitions:

  1. A straight line or plane that touches a curve or curved surface at a point, but if extended does not cross it at that point.
  2. A completely different line of thought or action. “He quickly went off on a tangent about wrestling”
  3. Mathematics: the trigonometric function that is equal to the ratio of the sides (other than the hypotenuse) opposite and adjacent to an angle in a right triangle.

 

 A straight line or plane that touches a curve or curved surface at a point, but if extended does not cross it at that point.

 Think about this in terms of teaching. How many times do we focus on our “point”, and approach it in many ways; bending and curving our way to ‘touch’ students – without crossing – so that they come into their own understanding to the subject. Sometimes when I ‘go off on a tangent’ – I may seem like I’m wandering in the beginning. It may be a personal observation or story. It may be an event that I can then tie back into my subject. I always have the plan to come back to the subject.

 A completely different line of thought or action. “He quickly went off on a tangent about wrestling”

Sometimes, a totally different or new thought expands the subject and the class lesson – Students thing about a topic in a whole new way. For example, if I’m teaching horticulture and the zones of plant species, my tangent may go to farm-to-table, or hunger, and the effects on plant diversity. The subject is still horticulture, but the tangent enhances my subject. In teaching business, my tangents are usually about entrepreneurs and how they change the local economy (for good and bad). I might go off on a tangent – or tell a story of owning my own business – on how certain business changed the economic landscape. Again, the topic is the same; my plan is in place, but the tangent makes is interesting and more in depth.

Mathematics: the trigonometric function that is equal to the ratio of the sides (other than the hypotenuse) opposite and adjacent to an angle in a right triangle.

OK – I’ll have to ponder this one! In Business Communications, we have a ‘trial’ on a current event. SO, I guess I’ll take off on a tangent equal to the “right side” opposite [to the affirmative side] and adjacent to an angle [uncommitted side] in a right triangle [OK, I’m really lost!] Perhaps this one won’t work!

tangentSo, try going off on a tangent in your class. Make sure that class plan is in your pocket, but allow yourself the freedom to be spontaneous. Who knows, your students may just have some fun learning.