My thoughts…

During one of my recent “rabbit hole adventures” through Twitter, I discovered the following article, Teaching Math to People Who Think They Hate It by Jessica Lahey.  The article discusses a Cornell University professor’s desire to teach math to people who dislike the subject. I was very intrigued because one of my favorite parts about teaching mathematics is seeing the “aha” moments in people’s eyes as they all of a sudden understand the concept or make a new connection. The article did not disappoint! After reading, there were several main thoughts/questions that really stood out to me.

  • What is your “mathematical biography”?
    • One of the first things that the professor, Steve Strogatz, does with his students is asks them to provide a “mathematical biography”. Often you can trace someone’s thoughts and feelings toward math back to their prior experiences.
    • I often hear people say throughout the course of a day, “I’m not a math person.”, “Math is not my thing.”, or even “I love math.” Now, I am pondering what is their math biography? Can that mindset be traced back to an experience in their learning?
    • Stay tuned for a post in the near future of my math biography. (While I have reflected on my prior experiences, I haven’t actually written my biography.)
  • Setting the hook-
    • Inquiry-based…problem-based…student-centered…Adults and children alike solve mathematical problems daily that are presented to them without even realizing it. How you may ask? It’s disguised in context! Young siblings determining how many pieces of candy they each get to make it “fair”. Adults estimating how much money they will have left after buying dinner. If we are solving math problems every day in “disguise”, why can’t our math instruction be in disguise as well. Think… 3 Act tasks, problem-based tasks….low barrier of entry. Students as well as adults enter these problems, make sense of the problem at hand, and use their level of math understanding to reason their way through, construct a viable argument for their thoughts and model the context with their mathematics. Sound familiar? SMPs. 🙂
    • Mathematics has not changed… It is crucial that we look at the WAY in which mathematics is approached and our perspective towards mathematics. We live in a world surrounded by people “who are not math people”. It is time to step up- change the way in which math is approached, change our mindsets toward mathematics, make math the engaging, real-life, problem-based subject that it really is.
  • Conceptual Understanding vs. Procedural fluency
    • As the article discusses, often the argument is presented that students are not ready for the rich problem solving tasks because they don’t have the “basic” concepts or know their facts. I disagree. While I completely agree that procedural fluency is equally as important as conceptual understanding, I believe that these two components should be developed hand in hand. Snapshot of my mathematical biography: I did not learn my multiplication facts. I HATED time drills. Every stinking time, I would freeze because of the time factor. However, I considered myself an all ‘A’ student. There was no way I would let my teacher think that I did not know my facts. I learned ways to “compensate”. I got really good at my x 10 facts. So, every time I was drilled on my x 9 facts, I quickly subtract one of my groups. (6 x 10 = 60 So, 6 x 9 =54) Really my conceptual understanding of the operations helped me make sense and become procedurally fluent with my multiplication facts. If someone had waited on me to learn all my facts before giving me contextual problems or even a conceptual understanding,  I’d still be stuck in 3rd grade memorizing my facts. This is one of the main reasons I am a huge believer in using games and Cognitively Guided Instruction in math instruction. If you haven’t heard of it, check it out or let me know. I will be glad to share my experiences and information with you.

My challenge to myself and anybody else-

  1. Ask yourself, “What’s my math biography?”
  2. Begin turning all the “I’m not a math…” comments into “OMG, I totally get it now” and/or “You mean to tell me you can teach math this way?”

About Lisa Anglea

Wife. K-5 Math Coach. Lifelong Learner
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