I am so excited to welcome you on this journey of making math more meaningful, for not only students, but for teachers, administrators, and parents as well.
My time in the classroom with students was a huge part of who I was for 17 years. In 2009, I attended a Singapore Math conference in Columbus, OH with a colleague. I was blown away by multiple things that were presented that day. There were many “ah ha!” moments that day that made math more meaningful for me as a 20-something year old teacher. Before that conference I was the type of teacher who taught very algebraically and using only algorithms. That’s how I was taught and learned, I didn’t know anything different.
My beliefs in math education are student-centered, freedom to be flexible with how students think about numbers, and using the proper math vocabulary through deep mathematical discussions. Teaching with flexibility is a huge instructional shift for teachers, so the professional learning opportunities that are offered need to be impactful and encouraging as every teacher is at a different level developing the skills that allow student discovery vs. teacher-led instruction. I want students to feel they are mathematicians and can do math, no matter their working level.
During my teaching career, my vision of mathematics instruction and student learning has changed as my knowledge and level of understanding has grown. I strongly believe we need to teach math conceptually to students to ensure they grasp the procedural understanding that is necessary at higher levels. Using students’ prior knowledge to ignite their metacognition will help build a solid foundation of making connections and understanding how what we are learning connects to concepts in the real world. Many of us were never taught this when we were growing up. We were shown how to solve a problem for a right answer, but we never discovered, or were shown, what the answer represented and why we followed the rules we did.
As a classroom teacher and math consultant, it is important to me that both teachers and students engage in discovery activities in order to build their level of understanding around math. This level of discovery starts all the way down at a preschool level with sorting and counting activities and continues throughout all grade levels to the point where students can explain the reason why we invert and multiply when we are dividing fractions. Too frequent, students rush or are rushed to the procedural understanding. Oftentimes through this discovery many lightbulbs will shine brightly and students can undo many misconceptions they may have encountered.
By using a discovery approach to instruction, this allows students time to explain their thinking and share ideas with peers. We know the definition of mastery is the ability to teach something to someone else, which is exactly what we are working towards as students voice their ideas and share their strategies with others. We can no longer have a silent math classroom. Peer relationships are more important than ever to build in our classrooms today. Having students listen and respond to peers helps strengthen our social-emotional learning as well. Just as it is important for students to be given time to share their thoughts and ideas, it is also important that proper mathematical vocabulary is emphasized and students are encouraged to use it during their discussions.
As I reflect back on my career in the classroom, one of the most important ways I have grown as an educator is that I used to say I taught something to my students. In a way it was like checking something off my to-do list. However, I have learned, and worked very hard, to ensure that I no longer “teach” something to my students, but instead, I instruct and guide them to “learn” a concept. In the end that is what matters most, what did my students learn and take away from what they did today. The priority must be on them and what they did rather than me and what I did.
I believe and value each one of my students as a reader, I believe each one of them is also a mathematician. Both in my classroom and when I am working with teachers, I do my best to make each of them believe this. We don’t have to be fast at math to be a good mathematician, we don’t have to be “really good” at math to be a mathematician. A mathematician is someone who uses their own math tools to solve problems in a way that makes sense to them and can share their ideas and strategies with others. My goal is for my students to look into the mirror and see themselves as a mathematician, as someone who can do math and does it well.
My next blog post will go into detail how I get students (and teachers) to think of themselves as mathematicians throughout the school year. I can’t wait to share students examples with you!
I look forward to continuing this journey of building mathematicians in the world and help students be thinkers, not calculators. Thank you for joining me!