3/13-11/13

I suppose how you read, “Eight!” might give clues as to how you are interrupting life lately, and by lately it could mean the last 3/4 of the year, or at any point in that time.

The math? Everyday we are bombarded with numbers as it relates to the pandemic and the world. How you interpret those numbers, and how you can empathize and react to the numbers, over time, over this much time, impacts us as people.

Do you believe the number 13 is unluckier than other numbers? How about Friday the 13th being unlucky?

March 13th of this year, 2020, was, not to be too dramatic, but a total shutdown of life as we knew it. Now, it has been eight months since then. Eight!

Although you may be not be wanting an analysis of grammar from a blog entitled, “Talking Math,” the exclamation point at the end of the eight can mean so much. I suppose how you read, “Eight!” might give clues as to how you are interrupting life lately, and by lately it could mean the last 3/4 of the year, or at any point in that time. Think: If you were to take away the exclamation point and insert an emoji, existing or imagined, what would it be?

One perspective might be excitement. Here is an example: “I love math!” Not going to lie, fear of sickness for everyone aside, there have been many parts of this “temporary norm” I have thoroughly enjoyed. As a person who leans toward introversion, and prefers to stay home often, I have enjoyed having time to be more casual, time to relax, time to catch up on cleaning, time to be with my kids who will soon be out of the nest, time to think, and time to just breathe from the sometimes hectic life I led. While the thought of silver linings may have become cliche, and for sure there is so many milestones that will look different this year, this break in the routine of our regular lives may be something I think I may miss. It isn’t crazy to think I will look back in many years and say, “Remember 2020… that was such a slow time, and filled with meh, but I kind of miss the pace.”

Or “Eight!” could be in exasperation. Like: “Ugh! Algebra, ahhh…gain?!?” And, I know I have had moments like that in the past eight months. In fact, at times I have felt like I am in my own version of Groundhog’s Day. I know it’s important to keep my family safe, so we are doing things a little bit differently. My family is staying home more – an extended, not-as-fun version of staycation. Maybe you can relate. If you are like me, you no longer have the job you once had, or you have your job, but are performing it from home. So your routine is gone, extending the combination repetitive and pointless feeling each day. I am experiencing the last eight months as a series of peaks and valleys, narrated by only the voice in my head, despite having my family of four also around. The words and pictures on social media and the background noise of TV have replaced the hubbub of my classroom and school, and the now-treasured live interaction with people. Some days are great, of course. My family is awesome! While others are not because life is what it is. The extremes in the monotony is what lead is the exasperation often felt during this unprecedented times in, arguably, all of our lives.

Early on in the months of the pandemic, I tried very hard to eliminate anger, which could escape as, “Eight!” I often heard this type of frustration come out as anger during math class, for example, “I hate math!” or “Math hates me!” Just like numbers haven’t really done any physical harm to any person and there is no physical reason to feel hatred towards an inanimate math*, I tried to overcome the frustration and anger I was having for the situation forced upon us on the 13th of March. I released control to things I could not control. At that point I figured we’d be done our shutdown in the summer, which then led to by the beginning of the school year, and of course, here we are well into November and we are still into the thick of it. If I am being honest with the situation, in the spring, some days even stepping outside was an exercise in bravery, let alone going to a store. I know not everyone has the same low level of risk tolerance, but we all lead different lives and as I witnessed images on television of hospitals, I knew returning for a visit was not something I wanted to do- my family and I had punched enough hospital stay cards. Plus, and I digress, while some people are game to jump out of planes, I cringe driving over a bridge, or even walking over one at a mini-golf course. I take other types of risks, don’t feel bad for me… or make fun :). Bravery looks different to everyone, and I think we should be equitable in our understanding. Digression over… It is totally is a bummer that we can’t be like we were this time last year. Absolutely awful. But, I can’t control it. I have no skills to make a vaccine, I did not go to college for public health policy, and I have no political power to change the way the world can act. I can change how I react, and how my family gets through everyday. My Eight! months is sometimes so frustrating, but I am less inclined towards this as my exclamation of choice.

So, it’s now another Friday the 13th. Eight months later. Period. Good news, maybe, is the next Friday the 13th isn’t until August of 2021. Best case scenario for between now and _____(fill in the blank) is that we return to our normal way of life, right? I don’t think we will return to normal, like 2019 normal, because life’s a journey and the past eight months has taught us all how to live differently. Whether we think about the eight months as happy, exasperated, angry, or simply occurring, we all are different people now. The math of the past eight months’ worth of the pandemic has shaped the narrative of our lives, and we will move into the next eight months and beyond, as a new version of ourselves.

The math? Everyday we are bombarded with numbers as it relates to the pandemic and the world. How you interpret those numbers, and how you can empathize and react to the numbers, over time, over this much time, impacts us as people. Our daily lives, lived within the narratives of our homes, is impacted by weighing decisions, calculating risks, and using math in ways we never thought we would need. Our logical selves and emotional selves are in conflict everyday, with no clear winner, and no need for a winner.

Be safe, be well.

*Why people think they hate math… great topic for a blog post! I’ll add it to my list! And, yes, exclamation points placed with purpose.

Time Management or Managing Time

A Ramble: What are we doing well as educators, as parents? What are we really helping our students and children learn through, and beyond, academics?

There are many ongoing debates in education right now. One of them that seems to pit teachers against parents and teachers against teachers, leaving students somewhere in between, is the debate over the value of homework. For that matter, there are plenty of conversations as to how class time is best spent, and how curriculum, instruction, and assessment can be utilized, in tandem, to guide students towards the ultimate potential. Sounds great! Sounds great?

In order to reach every student’s potential, units and lessons should be a combination of differentiated, personalized, and individualized (check out my presentation in the resources section). Learning should be engaging, active, rigorous, and relevant. Along with content, students should be taught executive functioning and social-emotional skills that will help form learners and citizens that will succeed in school and in society at large. No small task, of course. Is it possible for teachers to plan, implement, and assess in classrooms that are truly teaching and reaching students in a way that are society is expecting? How is there time in a 24-hour day, 7-day week?

Of course, my statements are slightly hyperbolic. No one can, or should, work 24-hours in a day, every single day of the week. And no one can possibly expect every lesson to be as described above. However, on the flip side, it is exactly the type of pressure educators are putting on ourselves, and the type of pressure that is driving educational movements today, in and out of school buildings. So, the questions arise- how are educators using time? How should we, as teachers, plan for students to spend their time out of school? How should we, as parents, expect our children to spend their time out of school?

It isn’t an exaggeration that time is limited. We are only given so many hours in a day, and so many weeks in a year. Knowing we cannot literally use all of the time available, how do we best use the time provided. I’d like to give my opinion at this point in my career, at this point in my life, and at this point in the year. I say it this way because I know that experience has changed my views. I also believe that as the year ends, and I am a reflective person looking towards a fresh start of sorts, I want to give another caveat to my point of view.

I encourage dialogue via the comments section below, and also via the social media outlet from which you may have been directed here.  Discourse is a way to learn.

The role of adults is to help guide children, to guide students towards becoming educated and productive members of whatever group and society in which they choose to live. Teaching our students and our own children to manage their own time is important, a skill, I believe, most people do not naturally learn on their own. We like to say that we can’t teach intrinsic motivation, but wish that all people had it, of all ages. I think we want students to be intrinsically motivated so that true learning can take place. When learning is authentic and genuine, time, and its management is often not a factor, only a constraint by our school system or our families’ busy schedules. It’s a dichotomy we need to teach our children to manage, for better or for worse. We need to help guide our students to love learning for its own sake through instruction that facilitates it and we need to explicitly teach time management.

Do we teach time management skills through the mundane necessities that often come in life, but we are wanting our children to experience less and less? Or do we teach them to manage their time and their energies to focus on what is priority at the moment, and what is fun and engaging? How do we balance learning for its own sake, with the stark reality that there are tasks that do need to be accomplished, and accomplished well, for their own sake, for the means to the ends, and also for learning how to be members of whatever productive society and culture in which we are happy and healthy participating members. Teachers and parents need to work together for the sake of a next generation that, unfortunately and fortunately, have so much more to learn, and can learn in ways that are beyond exciting and beyond fun. Students of today are able to have almost a customized education, of sorts (an oversimplification, best understood by knowing the difference between differentiation, individualization, and personalization), one that many parents are demanding, and schools are trying to find balance to figure ways to accommodate. However, is the push to find the potential in every child, every lesson, of everyday, leading us astray of skills that may be necessary to help facilitate learning, one of them being the management of time, and with it comes the management of mental energy? All of the new trends in education today, and all of the debate over whether homework is needed, or what type of homework should be given, or when school should start and what students should be doing while in school, may all come down to how well are we, as adults, helping to explicitly teach our students how to realistically manage their time and energy in a world that is 24 hours a day, 365 days a week in their demands.

I encourage dialogue via the comments section below, and also via the social media outlet from which you may have been directed here.  Discourse is a way to learn.

“I thought there would be no math.”

I was watching one of my favorite morning shows, Good Morning America, and the anchors were jokingly laughing off their inability to quickly calculate something that would have added to the light-hearted conversation with an off-handed quip we often hear, “I thought there would be no math.” In other words, ‘it’s okay that I can’t do math, because I can read and I am good at other things.’ One of my other favorite morning shows, Golic and Wingo, even has a button they push that sounds when the personalities become befuddled by the numbers. Theirs is similar, “I was told there’d be no math.” I always take exception to these sentiments because, obviously, we are sending the wrong message.

An even further wrong message was heard at a recent college tour we took with our son, a high school junior. As the admissions counselor was describing the requirements of their liberal arts program, hoping to hook the kids, she opened with, “Has anyone ever been victimized by math?” Victimized?? Seems a bit harsh. I always joke as a teacher when students tell me they are not fond of math (that’s a nice way to put it). I joke with them by asking in what ways numbers have actually hurt them. That gets a laugh, but maybe you need to hear my tone and see my corny face when I say it :). But, this counselor was actually trying to insinuate how painful math class and math with numbers can be, to the point that this college was going to replace all of the kids’ harmful K-12 experiences with a better, more fun class that will be more useful to them. I can’t argue with making math class more real and more meaningful. Whether something is fun, that’s for another conversation, I believe. What bothered me most was that our son, and seventh-grade daughter with us, already both not math-lovers, are once again hearing how awful math is, and in this context, from an educator.

Math educators have uphill battles, maybe more so than other subject areas, but what are parents to do? Society is not subtle about a preference for reading, for history, for science, for art, for sports, for almost anything besides math. Some kids start out with a natural propensity for counting and numbers, and continue a lifetime love of math, paralleled with success in math classes. The parents of these kids probably have an easier road through school, as many subjects and leveling, etc. are tied to math success or failure.

On the flip side, other students struggle with math concepts their entire lives. While still others are up and down depending on many factors, including the type of math involved. The parents of these two types of students may find themselves needing to support their children during their years in school, and at home, and most do not know exactly what to do. I have seen that many battles with math in kids, and probably adults, comes down to confidence, more so than any other subject. Due to many of our schools’ tendencies to tie their overall class structure and opportunity to math ability and/or successes, it is an unfortunate product that math confidence is tied to overall academic self-confidence. I believe I have counseled more children than I would have liked in what seems basic: one’s self concept should not be tied to math ability (perceived or actual). At the heart of the college described above, I do believe they are trying to find the math mind in every kid and try to build up those students who have lost their confidence, however, the message came across like all of the others we hear in society- you either know math or you don’t. If you don’t, it’s okay. If you do… well, you must be the smarter one because us here certainly can’t figure it out.

In our house, one of our the things we like to say is, “Math puts food on the table.” Both my husband and I teach middle school math, for many years. Both of our children are far stronger in writing and history (our son) and writing and science (our daughter). In fact, they will do anything possible to avoid math, and many nights have been a complete struggle to finish math homework. Some years, passing math class has been very close, and too many dinner conversations, car rides, and money have been spent making sure math is understood enough to pass the tests the school feels are important to pass. Don’t get me wrong, I support the school, and their assessments. I just wish, somewhere along the line, someone, or something had sparked a love of math, or at least something that would have provided a like for the subject and the potential that it can have. Math can be more than just learning concepts and completing assignments.

Will math put food on my grown kids’ tables? Probably in some form or another, but not in the way we have provided for them in our house. I mean, seriously, without math we literally would not have food as we have made our living teaching math to hundreds, if not thousands, of students. The most important students are the two that eat dinner with us every night. We do not hold class each night. We have already taught during the day. We have sparked, we have provided opportunities that will create critical thinking and joy, and we have followed our curriculum, and our own children have already gone through their day, exhausted also by 8-12 hours of learning and activities and practice and work and chores. Should we do more? Should we tutor in a way that will provide what we want out of math that ensures math directly puts food on the table? I am sure we will be greeted promptly with eye rolls like every parent gets. The best we can offer is to be there to support our children when they need help with all homework subjects. To make sure that every subject gets equal billing. To make sure that all subjects gets positive words, but especially math. That we “Yay MATH” whenever possible. We are role models by living the life of math, selectively nagging, so as not to push two teens away. We lit the fire of math and let it simmer, until one day it will come out as it is intended in our children, as this world, and our daily lives in it, cannot function with numbers, and at least a basic understanding of them.