Thursday, November 12, 2020

Note-Taking & Learning Something New at 64

I've been teaching for over 30 years, almost all of it at the community college level. So I've gotten pretty used to what I do. (But not bored. I still discover new ideas every semester, and I still love connecting with students.)

That changed with quarantine. Before 2020, I was pretty sure that I never wanted to teach online. It looked like way more work, and it was clear to me that I wouldn't be able to have the same level of connection with my students in an online class. I was right about both things, but (amazingly, to me) I am enjoying teaching online. 

I meet my students in Zoom two days a week. Most of them won't turn their cameras on, and I want to respect that. (I offered extra credit for cameras on, and I get to see 2 to 5 faces each day. It's better than none.)

I have a light load this semester. Just two classes. And it still feels like full-time work. Next semester I'll have over twice as many units (in 3 classes). I'm starting to prepare ahead of time, so I don't drown.

I started taking notes for the Discrete Math book I'll be using, and after I wrote up some notes, I went back and wrote an introduction to note-taking. Tonight I described it to my bother (who's becoming a teacher), and realized that it was a bit of an epiphany for me.

I have terrible handwriting, and always thought I didn't know how to take good notes. I copy the board in a math class, just like everyone else. That's not really note-taking to my way of thinking. I highlight the good bits when I'm reading, and when I come to an example, I try to do it myself before looking at the author's steps. But notes? Nah, that just never seemed like one of my skills.

Well, I was a little excited as I finished up my notes for the first section of the textbook. I had set the Canvas page so that students could edit it too, and so I had purposely left some parts of my notes incomplete. As I looked at what I had written and did a bit of rearranging, I saw some patterns.

So I wrote this introduction:

How do you take notes when you read? My reading notes may surprise you. I see 4 types of things that I'm doing in my notes:

  • The first, organizing by making lists, will be familiar to you. 
  • But I am also trying to connect a new term to other meanings outside of math. 
  • And I am reacting to what I read (surprise, and noticing how powerful something feels). 
  • I also made up my own example.

That seemed kind of cool.

Then, when I talked to my brother, I realized that I had always thought I was no good at taking notes. (I didn't think I really needed to be any better at it, because I am good at most academics anyway. But...) I never thought I could teach students how to take better notes. And I realized that this one task I gave myself, to make some reading notes for the textbook, suddenly showed me that I know a lot about reading math and taking notes that I can share with students.

So that's my epiphany. I do know how to take good notes, and now I know how to describe that process to students.

What helps you conquer a text you're reading? Do you take "good notes"? What does that mean to you?

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