Thursday, January 23, 2014

Add Calculus To Your Workflow

This weekend past was the one where everyone was working on their report cards.  I know this because:
1) I was working on report cards, and
2) my entire Facebook feed seemed to be updates on where everyone was at on their report cards.

I got to thinking about teacher workflow.  Our work is usually more incremental, period by period, day by day, unit by unit, that larger projects such as report cards tend to throw us off.  Stress levels go through the roof.  I am not immune to this, myself, but I have reflected on when I feel the best, and why.

In reading Ian Stewart's In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed The World, I just read the chapter on Newton (and Leibniz, almost simultaneously) discovering Calculus.

Calculus is often defined as the math of change, and one thing it allows us to do is calculate rates of change. Another is integrating to find the area under a curve.  We might imagine the area under our curve as representing all the work that needs to be done on a given project.  Now imagine this example for your typical teacher during the report card period:

On our work vs. time graph, if we were to take any unique point on the line, we might not feel like progress is being made.  But if we divide up our workflow into enough unique points (for example, making a day by day plan for the entire reporting period), then it may seem easier.  As long as our rate of change is positive, we should feel as if we're making progress.  As we get to the end, momentum applies, and we may feel like we're accelerating our rate of work, simply because there is less to do, and as we get toward the end of the project, things will kind of taper off, and we get to relax.

This may seem obvious, but looking at how much work we have to do all at once is a sure mood and morale killer.  We may just give up, and not start "climbing the curve" until it's too close to the deadline, and stress and panic set in.  Instead, check where you are at any given point in time.  Set manageable time goals, and meet them.  Planning day by day for a week ahead may give you enough data slices to feel like you're making progress.

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