By Chelsea Bailey '16
Andy and his wife
After graduating from Olin in 2011, Andy Pethan realized that there was nothing he'd
rather do than become a teacher. With this in mind, he joined the Teacher
Preparation Collaborative (TPC) program at Winona State University, where he
further learned how to apply his technical skills to the classroom. Now, Andy
is a high school math teacher in Byron, Minnesota. He loves his job and we wanted to find out why!
How did your experience at Olin inspire you
to be a teacher?
freshman year, my class was getting really cranky about the way some of our classes
were going -- they felt too traditional and not project-heavy enough, and we were uprising. The act of getting
mad about how we were learning forced me to start consciously thinking more
about it. Second semester, there was a group of 6 of us spanning all 4
grades that created a group independent study called MetaOlin. The idea
was to study a familiar thing, Olin, through the lenses of 6 different
disciplines. We did systems, diversity, digital communications,
pedagogy/learning, history, and information literacy. Besides being the
most amazing experience ever and owning us to death that semester, it was the
first time I started to reimagine learning. I got excited enough to take a
Wellesley class called "Improving Schools", which I also loved, and
then took a year on LOA to dive into things full time for a year without the
time drain of classes. There ended up being 6 of us that went on LOA
together and we started a company called Alight Learning to build software for schools focused on
online team learning spaces.
generally, I fell in love with the way that we learned things
at Olin -- learning was relevant, hands-on, and flexible as my interests
changed over time. It was well rounded but allowed me to go deep enough
into an area to graduate competent at something (in my case software design).
Andy has his students use post-it notes, in
true Olin fashion!
How do you think the Olin culture affected
your teaching style?
I am very
laid back and open with my stats kids and push them to do cool things because
it is awesome, and then show them the learning along the way, instead of trying
to force it too much the other way. I am constantly reinventing the
course (similar to how Mark [Somerville] and John [Geddes] threw out the freshman math/physics nearly every year to
completely reiterate on it).
I can see that you feel very strongly about education reform. What steps
have you been taking at Byron to help improve the education system?
fortunate that Byron rocks as a district and my team of math teachers at the
high school is also great. That said, I value things very aligned with
Olin, such as student passion, self-direction, applied learning, and skills
that are relevant. The school, both from legal obligation and culture, is
still pretty invested in standardized test performance, mainly the state tests.
I value those assessments as a good measure, but I think we limit
ourselves when we don't create other metrics to strive for besides content
retention and application on tests. I invest most of my time in my
statistics course -- it is an elective class, so my team gave me freedom to try
just about anything with it, and it turns out that it is hard as heck to build
up a curriculum that is fully online and textbook-free with a strong base of
projects to drive instruction. If I can figure out how to do one course
well, I think it will help me better innovate in other areas and be a more
useful contributor to my team.
Andy's students collaborate with each other
and use 21st century tools, instead of textbooks, to learn
What interested you about teaching high
school students in particular?
I like older
kids that are capable of self-direction, but are young enough to still turn
around in life. I've seen some amazing high schools like the Met in
Providence, Science Leadership Academy in Philly, and MATCH in Boston that
convinced me that a ton can be done with kids in high school.
I love to see that you're extending your
teaching beyond the classroom. What inspired you to begin making YouTube videos?
department all started flipping their classes when I showed up as a student
teacher. Once I saw it, the idea seemed obvious and made a ton of sense,
so I record everything and dump it to the web for my kids to watch at home,
freeing up lots of class time for more interesting things than me talking.
What other unique strategies are you using to
engage your students and help extend learning beyond the classroom?
games -- kids love goofy games, sports, competitions, etc. Usually I
think if I would have fun doing it, and if yes, try it on the kids and see if
they have fun too. In my designing I put the learning experiences first,
then figure out how to make the content better inform the project. I
think the overall course design matters a lot, so I overhaul it a lot.
If it's fun for him, he figures it'll be fun for them!
What is your favorite thing about teaching?
seeing kids enjoy learning and get excited and curious. I personally love
the creation process of a course, though it is super tedious. It feels
like product design (well, it is) which I loved at Olin. The nice thing
is that I get to build a product and test it on kids the next day, get feedback
in their responses and how well they learn, and iterate on it again (sometimes
to reteach the next day, sometimes to improve for the next semester). If
I didn't get to create my job, it would be far less fun.