I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this from students. I guess I was lucky. Growing up, nobody ever told me that I wasn’t good at math (or anything else, really). More importantly, nobody ever made it okay for me not to be good at math, or school, or whatever I was interested in learning about. But not all of my students have the family support that I did (and continue to have). So part of nurturing their talent falls to me. I’ve always told my students that I want them to be fearless problem solvers – to face life unafraid of what lies ahead. To nurture this I have to allow space within my classroom for some of the “messy stuff” like playing around with patterns and numbers, wondering about data and statistics, or building seemingly impossible 3D geometric structures. And then pointing out how they just did math – and they were good at it.
You see, when my students say, “I’m not good at math,” they really mean, “I’m not good at quickly recalling math facts when I think everyone is looking at me and waiting for me to respond in some brilliant way.” They equate math with arithmetic and math facts and speed. I try to point out the difference between math and arithmetic (math facts), which sometimes helps. I tell them how bad I am at subtracting numbers quickly in my head.
So what do I do to develop fearless problem solvers? I pose a problem for my students to solve. Then I step back. I observe. I listen. I ask questions. I make them all think before anyone is allowed to speak. I make them talk to me about what they’re thinking and I make them talk to each other, especially to each other. That way I get to listen more. I practice wait time, sometimes for awkwardly long, silent moments. Eventually, I no longer hear, “I’m not good at math.” Except when they want to compute something quickly, on the spot, in the moment, and it isn’t working. And then they turn and say, “Sorry, arithmetic.”
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My advisory students are now seniors. We started together four years ago, along with the school. It’s a humbling journey to spend four years with the same group of students, helping them navigate through high school, getting them ready for whatever adventure follows.
We do a lot of work in advisory – research about “Life after Baxter,” prepping for student-led conferences, creating and maintaining digital portfolios, keeping track of academic progress, and completing any required paperwork, for starters. Even though we meet three times a week for about 35 minutes each time, we still have some “down” time.
We like to play games together. We play Set, Farkle, and Joe Name It along with various card games. Taking some time to play and laugh together is important to building those relationships.
You know the quote. You can watch the clip.
Yesterday I brought a box of Twinkies to class so my students could check Egon’s math. They measured twinkie dimensions and borrowed scales from the science lab. They made the classic error of not paying attention to units. And they argued – consulted – with one another. They didn’t quite finish during class yesterday. I predict that they will be somewhat surprised by the results.
So we got this grant. It’s big, for us anyway. And it’s a federal grant. We’ve tried for three years to get a federal grant and finally, we got one. We never had any start-up funds. We just jumped in and did it. What did we get this grant for? For everything that we’ve been trying to do and have to do anyway. Nice, right? It is. Really.
My part of the grant is to look at “Anytime, Anywhere” learning, streamline it, organize it, find ways to link our standards to it, and talk to the folks who are looking for ways to track it. This includes our snow day learning, Flex Friday, and alternative course work. And I get to work with a really awesome colleague to do this. Meanwhile, others will be working on dual-enrollment college courses, community service, and internships.
Because learning isn’t confined to the classroom. And learning math doesn’t have to happen in a math classroom from a math teacher. Learning how to write can happen in science class, because they are taught how to write in science class. We are working to be flexible because we are competency based. And that means that we look at evidence of what the student knows, not who the student learned from. Learning is organic and holistic.
So look for future posts about the progress of our Anytime, Anywhere learning curriculum development. It’s going to be quite a ride.
It was one of those days, like so many other days, when there wasn’t a moment to breathe and so much was pulling me in so many different directions. Today was the “official” Teacher Appreciation Day, according to the Google doodle, anyway. Yesterday was the day that we had bagels and I received some notes from kids and parents. Today was just hectic and crazy. Plus, we’re having a spirit week. You know, when kids (and teachers) are supposed to dress according to different themes every day and you pit classes against each other in “friendly” competition to earn meaningless “pride” points. Each morning my job is to record who is present in my Advisory and who dressed up. I predict that we come in tied for last. So far, we’ve earned 0 points, and I’m so okay with that. Can you tell I’m not a fan?
After all of this – the teaching, the lunch meeting, the guidance meeting (where I at least got to decompress a bit), the writing emails to parents, the updating RTI plans – today’s after school meeting is in content areas. That means that I get to talk about math & math teaching with a few really cool people. We’re trying to finalize our courses for next year so that we can have kids sign up. (I know, you probably did that at your school in February.) We’re still working out the kinks as we iron out issues with our proficiency-based, student-centered, balance between high demand and access for all. But that’s the good work, the work we not only need to do, but the work I signed up to do. And I am lucky that I get to do that work with good people.
So, happy Teacher Appreciation Day to all of you in the #MTBoS and beyond who keep doing this work for your students. And who every once in a while challenge me to connect with you. Thank you. I truly appreciate it.
Today and last Thursday the same group of students was arguing with each other about the math they were learning. On Thursday, they stayed about 5 minutes into lunch to finish their argument. It was fun to listen to. They were so engaged and talking math and refining their understanding. Eventually, today, they called me over to hear their arguments and clarify any misunderstandings. Here’s the beginning of the exchange:
S1: “Let me ask you this, Pam …”
S2: “No don’t ask her that, you’ll just confuse her.”
S1: “Let me ask. She’s a teacher with a lot more experience with this stuff than we have. I bet she won’t get confused.”
My students make me smile.