There is a TED talk from May, 2010 by Dan Meyer, entitled Math Class Needs A Makeover. Meyer is talking about a more effective way to teach math and math reasoning. In the course of his discussion, he lists five signs we see in students that point to a problem with the way a teacher teaches.

As I listened to Meyer, I recognized some of these same (or similar) signs in the students I’ve discipled. And as I interact with youth workers and seek to understand trends in youth ministry, I think these signs are evident in a larger scale.

I think the evidence of these same signs point to a similar problem in the way we disciple the students in our ministry. And I think we can benefit from Meyer’s solution, as well.

Here’s what I mean . . .

Here are the signs Meyer says are evidence of poor Math teaching, with my attempt to connect the dots on how they look in a discipleship context:

>Sign 1: Lack of Initiative
What it looks like in math class: Students show a lack of initiative when they don’t “self start.” Instead, they want the teacher to personally come to their desks and re-explain parts of the lecture.

What it looks like in a discipleship context: Students don’t show any personal ownership of their own faith development. They don’t seem to be growing any closer to God in a relational perspective. They don’t pursue spiritual growth outside of your youth ministry.

>Sign 2: Lack of Perseverance
What it looks like in math class: Meyer didn’t specifically define this, but he alluded to an general unwillingness to stick with a math problem or process when sticking with it becomes difficult.

What it looks like in a discipleship context: This is a pretty tight parallel. Students face a little discomfort because they are identified as a Christ-follower and they give in to the crowd. Or they embrace a habit of sin because resisting it is not as fun or easy. Or maybe they don’t engage with a meaningful relationship with God in prayer of Bible interaction because doing so takes perseverance.

>Sign 3: Lack of Retention
What it looks like in math class: This is when students don’t remember concepts they’ve already been taught, or, supposedly been taught. (Remember, Meyer isn’t critiquing students, he’s critiquing poor teaching.)

What it looks like in a discipleship context: Pretty much the same. It’s students not having a knowledge of God’s character, or how He has interacted throughout history because they don’t retain what they’ve been taught from Scripture.

>Sign 4: An Aversion To Word Problems
What it looks like in math class: Pretty much what it says. Students don’t like word problems (and, um . . . who can blame them?)

What it looks like in a discipleship context: No clue. I said these were pretty good parallels, but not a perfect ones. Maybe this would be an aversion to Old Testament genealogies? ☺

>Sign 5: An Eagerness For Formula
What it looks like in math class: This is the practice of looking for easy fixes. Meyer says that people grow impatient with problems that don’t have an easy solution, or that all the variables aren’t defined for you.

What it looks like in a discipleship context: This is a biggie. Students embrace legalism or rule-following instead of relationship with Christ because it’s measurable. Students look to the Bible as a magic-8 ball that will answer their questions instead of finding guidance in the character and ways of God Himself. And so on . . .

So, what was Meyer’s solution? Meyer makes a really cool claim that the way math is taught actually steers kids to embrace all these negative signs. He basically claims that Math textbooks and teaching practices dumb down the process of learning to the point that it actually frustrates the very thing it’s intended to achieve.

Meyer advocates a different method of learning that (this is my summary) helps students engage more deeply with different levels of problem solving, dramatically increasing reasoning, interaction, and personal ownership of concepts.

I think we could benefit from this in our disciple making efforts as well.

  • We need to stop taking all the ownership of faith development. We have to figure out a way to pass this ownership along to students and their parents.
  • We have to embrace better Bible teaching methods. Stop lecturing students. Work to infuse your teaching with creativity, interactivity, and deeper levels of processing.
  • We have to help students understand that the Christ-life is hard. It’s NOT easy. It’s not shallow. There are no quick fixes. It’s often a struggle. But there is such GREAT joy in walking closely with God through the hard times.

We can’t expect the majority of our students to rise too high above the level they’re being led to. And quite frankly, we’re not leading them as well as we should or could be.

What do you think?