Ban the Average

Todd Rose, Harvard Graduate School of Educator faculty member, takes up this rally call in his 2014 TedX talk. If you haven’t watched this talk, you can find it here, and it is well worth the 18 minutes to fully hear his delivery of the message.

Rose talks about how in 1952 the air force had a problem. They discovered that fighter pilots were not finding expected success in flying fighter jets. Rose discusses how the cockpits at the time were designed for the average fighter pilot - average height, average leg and arm length, etc. And, in the end, it was discovered that not one of 4,000 fighter pilots measured those average dimensions. And so in designing a cockpit to fit the average pilot it actually fit no one. No one.

The response of the air force was to ban the average.

This led to creativity and innovation in design that allowed for adjustable cockpits so that any fighter pilot could fit appropriately. We use much of this technology in our cars when we adjust our seat or our steering wheels today.

Banning the average allowed creative minds to solve the problem.

When we design our curriculum around the average “on grade level” student, we have to ask ourselves, do these students actually exist? Can you think of one student in your experience who met that average profile in all areas – didn’t exceed it, didn’t fall below, just sat right there on grade level average in all areas? Math, literacy, social emotion, physical …

This graphic shows how students have a jagged learning profile.

jagged learning curve

We can consider the following from a blog by Whitford:

“The question is, are we teaching to the edges? Are we flexible enough in our approach that we are meeting our students where they are and are we pushing them to grow in all areas? Students have a jagged learning profile. They all do. They have strengths in some areas and weaknesses in others. And they all have different interests.”

As we set up our schools and our classrooms, and we design assessments and plans for intervention work, do we provide opportunities for what Rose calls the edges of learning?

To be fully equitable in our educational institutions, we need to break free of average textbook driven lessons and outcomes, and instead, provide rich experiential learning for our students.

provide rich experiential learning for our students.

We need to provide hands-on, student driven activities with a variety of pathways for learning material and demonstrating understanding. No published program can do this for us. Nor is this the role of our standards. This is the responsibility of the teachers on the front lines of education. And our teachers need to be empowered as decision makers and supported by being given time, opportunity for collaboration, resources, and professional development to shift towards this type of instruction.

When we let go of this notion of average, and we design for individual learners, we cast a wider net and lead more students to success.

As the students enter classrooms, honor who they are. Find out who they are. And then plan for the edges and watch the magic happen!

I wish you the best starting out your year – a year full of jagged learning, non-average experiences with thrilling outcomes.

5 questions to ask your students – from George Couros

  • What are the qualities you look for in a teacher?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What is one BIG question you have for this year?
  • What are your strengths and how can we utilize them?
  • What does success at the end of the year look like to you?

Be part of the Global Math Project and join educators across the globe in celebrating the joy of mathematics!

GMP hopes to have 1 million participants – join in the math project -exploding dots

Keep in Touch and Learn More:

connect with us on twitter         linkedin_logo_grey      math teacher resources       receive articles on mathematics education in your inbox        sign up for our newsletters