My favorite part of my job is being in classrooms and working with teachers and students supporting mathematics teaching and learning. I’m inspired every day by students and teachers. One of my goals is to change how students, teachers, and parents experience mathematics, in essence, change the culture of how we see, think about, and engage around this subject. I want mathematics to pique curiosity and make sense, and for our student- and teacher-mathematicians to reason and think critically and deeply. And, I want us all to see the mathematics around us; it’s everywhere! We all know friends, family, co-workers or acquaintances who don’t identify themselves as mathematicians. For some, mathematics was lorded over them, and they may have a phobia of mathematics due to what Jo Boaler (@joboaler) refers to as “math trauma” they suffered along the way. Knowing no other ways, we often teach how we were taught.
I encourage teachers in taking risks and I share bite-sized ways to “hack” math class. I know the term “hack” might offend some and I don’t mean to do that, or to underestimate the immense expertise involved in teaching. Teaching is complicated work. Most teachers don’t want to change everything but will try something. Hence, the use of “hack.” I leverage a few instructional activities, predictable routines (IAs) that have a high yield in terms of student learning and opening up mathematics. Giving teachers choice in where they’ll begin gives them control and ownership.
In some classes, those hacks start by changing one aspect of a lesson by using IAs such as Quick Images, Number Talks, Counting Collections, Mathematizing Read-Alouds, Numberless Word Problems, Noticing and Wondering, etc. to nurture number sense and problem solving, engages students in the Standards for Mathematical Practice, and build a community of mathematical thinkers and problem solvers. In my own practice, I started with Number Talks. What I learned was invaluable: how to listen to my students and to see and understand math how they saw and understood it. This changed everything, and I want other teachers to experience this. In other classes the hack might start with flipping the problem solving; engaging students in problem solving (using the strategies of Noticing and Wondering or Numberless Word Problems) first rather than after they “know the skills.”
Together we work through the emotional challenges of change and not knowing where that change might lead. While hopeful for what these changes may bring about, there are also concerns. Concerns worth addressing: “How will I respond?” or “What will I say, or ask, next?” Additionally, we tackle the content and pedagogical impacts of opening up the mathematics and shifting the ownership of the knowledge to the students. For example, when planning with teachers around addition and subtraction, I wonder aloud with them if it is always (or ever) necessary to subtract? Are there times they might want to add up/on instead? As teachers try these “hacks” the students respond: they want more! “This is math?” they say when engaging in a Number Talk! Yes, in fact, that is math! “When can we do that again?”
In The Heart of a Teacher: Identity and Integrity in Teaching the author, Parker Palmer (@parkerjpalmer), starts off with, “We teach who we are.” If this is true, then I want teachers to identify themselves as mathematicians. Only then can we hope to build our students’ identities as mathematicians allowing them to see the beauty and joy of mathematics. Coming alongside, and investigating mathematics and students’ thinking around mathematics, we are learning together and changing our identities. Sharing our successes and challenges with our peers continues to shift our mindsets.
I wonder what has worked for you in supporting others in building their identities as mathematicians, or in building your own? I’d love to hear from you.