I like math. I like how it makes me question, pull things apart, wonder deeply, think harder than I ever thought I could, feel excited about small successes, and much more.
I was asked by the parent of two kids that I am tutoring, one in Algebra I and the other in Algebra II, if math always came easy to me. I thought back and realized, for the most part, yes. There was one year in elementary school when I had a teacher who was very impatient and unwilling to explain things that I gave up and gave wrong answers just to be wrong. I realize now, that I knew the math well enough to knowingly give wrong answers, and I did it just to annoy him because I could. I was angry that he wouldn’t take the time to explain to the kids who didn’t understand how to do it.
In high school I had the most wonderful teacher for Algebra I and Geometry. He was an elderly gentleman, who was known for being “mean” and strict. I purposely chose him for both years and I learned so much. I had 100% in both classes and he moved me to the honors track from there. (Honors just meant you were taking harder classes, it didn’t improve your GPA at that time). I worked hard in his class, but I walked away really understanding the math, number sense, critical thinking and problem-solving. I was blessed to have two years with this teacher, he pushed me to a level I never would have reached otherwise.
When I needed to think about a different career after 20 years in nursing, it was memories of this teacher and the things I learned that sent me back to college to earn a math degree. I had to work hard in college, it didn’t come easily, but with the hard work I did well and feel I have a pretty good understanding of math and relationships. When I began teaching it was extremely important to me to share that understanding of mathematical practice and relationships, not just teach the stuff in the book, and as a new teacher I was considered strange at my school because I was constantly digging and spending time planning for deeper understanding and things that would encourage questioning and purpose for my students. One teacher, who just recently retired after 50+ years at the school, would say to me, “Why work so hard? Math hasn’t changed, and kids will continue to learn it even if you don’t work so hard.” This is the man who taught all honors level classes while he was here, and I would walk by his classes and see students just sitting and staring, sleeping, or texting during his classes. It used to upset me. I spent many years working alone, trying to create interesting, valuable lessons that would help kids really understand the math, and being laughed at. Until Common Core.
All of a sudden, when our district began implementing CCSSM, I was sought out, questioned, asked for help with lessons, planning, ideas, etc. I wasn’t being laughed at any more, in fact, my theme song has become, “I was common core, when common core wasn’t cool.” Imagine it to the tune of “I Was Country” by Barbara Mandrell.
The young man I have been tutoring in Algebra II came to me after several test scores in the 40% area. He was frustrated, and struggling to figure out why he wasn’t doing well when he thought he knew what he was doing. When we first sat down, he started by asking me, “Isn’t this the formula for this problem?” I asked him, “Why do you think that’s the formula?” He said, “I’m pretty sure that’s what my teacher told me.” I geared up for a loooooong session. After 2 – 1 1/2 hour sessions, during which there were many, “Oh, oh, oh, oh” moments, and “I never realized why that worked” and similar type comments, he took a repeat test from the last unit. His score this time? 89%. YES!! Want to try to tell me that common core and the SMP are just another edict coming down from above? You can try, but I believe in the power of where we can go if we are willing to change our mindsets and those of our students.
His younger sister is going to need a little more time. She is struggling with number sense, relational concepts, operational fluency and vocabulary. Sound familiar? No worries, I’m on it.
I love seeing what is happening in our classrooms as the changes are happening. Hearing an 8 yr old tell me that 58 + 49 can be added without paper and pencil, that they can show me more than one way to do it, and they can look at it before they start adding and have an idea of how much it should be is very exciting to me. Imagine what Algebra will be like for this child, compared to the many we have seen come through without these concepts.
I like math.