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Faith, Family, Football:

Sunday Priorities? Perhaps.

How do we determine priorities?

It’s another Sunday. I am not planning for the week tonight, but I will probably assess some tests, if I can muster the energy. This week has been one of reflection, about education, its state, and my place in it.

So what are the priorities this Sunday? Family, for sure. We spent a lot of time together on this rainy Sunday. To me, some of the best days are the nothing days, the days when everyone is home, doing nothing, or avoiding what they should be doing, television on, and just hanging out. It’s even better with football games on, in today’s case in the background, with the big games to come tonight, and tomorrow night.

Was there nagging to do more chores? Of course! Was there even more encouragement to do reading and homework? Definitely! Not sure how effective I was today, but, then again, I know when to fight the battles, and today was not one of them.

On this Sunday, not motivated by a particular football team, it’s even more of a time to reflect upon the gifts of faith and family that push me to continue in the field of education. This week has tested me. I did not work directly with students this week and without the ultimate beneficiaries of my dedication I find it easy to start dreaming of what life would be like with another profession. What would my hours be like? Would I have more time to read for pleasure? Would I have more energy so that my house would be cleaner or I would exercise? Would I have saved more money so that I could be in my “happy place” on the water of CI, VA instead of dreaming of it?

The flip question has to be, what would education be without me? The same, for sure. I mean, seriously… I am just one person, easily replaced in a job, even in a career, as everyone is. If there is one thing I have learned in my 2 1/2 decades in the “real world,” it is one is only irreplaceable to their family. With that perspective, however, my reflection this week centered around career goals and what type of impact I want to make on the field of education. After 22 years in education, is it time to move on and find another field where I can utilize talents and potentially focus on other talents? A perfect storm of a pro-con list… but in reality, the cons outweigh the pros. I am not done impacting students. I just want to do it on a grander scale. You are all a part of my dream because you have taken the time to read my blog posts, and explore my presence on this site and on social media.

In future days and weeks to come, please visit back for resources, for more discussion, for information on my presentations, for my curriculum, for education. Faith comes in all forms, and this Sunday I reflect on a week that has led me to regain faith in myself. Thank you to my family and my like-family for always supporting me. And, well, football… thank you for my escape.

“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.

It’s Sunday Night- Planning Time!

In my opinion, Sundays are one of the best days of the week. Although it is obvious and imperative to build upon the academic and SEL work that has been done last week, and the entire school year, it’s like a fresh start for a new week of learning, Whatever may have caused any stressors last week seem to fade to distant memory of Friday and Saturday with family and activities. Sundays are days of football watching, of straightening and organizing, and, of one of my favorite intellectual pursuits, planning for the math learning of my students, this year in grades four, and in grades six through eight.

I have always enjoyed the development of curriculum, and have never been able to just stick to the program that the school purchases. I use “the book” as a guide and a resource, combined with a the standards that students need to reach by the end of the year. I am blessed that I have always worked in schools throughout my career that have allowed me to utilize my creativity and my education to do what I feel is best for my students. I have added activities and ideas, from resources that I research or from my own creation, that I know will interest my students, or more importantly, be impactful to the students’ needs as math learners. As teachers, I know we have an intuition that sometimes supersedes data, we know what our students know and don’t know, and can use the “art of teaching” combined with the “science of teaching” to produce the perfect balance of challenges within a learning environment.

At this point in my career I am focusing on teaching math so that they get excited when they figure out problems, to excite students about numbers, to increase the confidence of all students, especially in mathematical pursuits. And… I personally strive to reach every student in a way that all of their gaps are filled without overlapping with prior mastery. My hope is that if I do overlap learning they have done before, I do it in a way that is more meaningful, more rigorous, and/or in greater context so that it builds numeracy, critical thinking, and appreciation. It is not easy to teach math in a personalized way, it takes time. And, as I am learning this year, and slowly documenting here, and in a notebook, and of course, in my mental notes, it takes prioritizing beyond just time.

Tonight’s planning for this week? Well, the middle school students, grades six through eight has been set with an upcoming assessment. My focus, as part of the prioritizing, is a new way to look at a fourth grade class of almost thirty students that I feel has not learned in a way that provides the education the students deserve- it needs to be more personalized. It needs to be more math. If I had my way, we would do math the entire school day! But, alas, I am only allowed so many minutes, so it’s about flexibility and thinking outside-of-the-box, and being grateful for the generosity of colleagues. Tonight, I am solidifying what I have been thinking about for a week- I am putting in a plan for hands-on, and face-to-face, and paper-and-pencil centers, all surrounding the topics of factors, multiplication and division, at a variety of levels. Let’s see how it goes!

Thoughts in the Trenches

New: I will have an occasional post of more journal-like blogs. An inside look into feelings, activities, thoughts, etc. of my experience as a teacher, or as a teacher-mom, or as a mathy-mom. Frequently, it is my hope, as I grow, to have them quickly followed up by a more professional post. It is not my intent to vent, so I hope you do not find that they are full of grousing. My goal is to share, while also providing a springboard to conversation, or at least of thought.

So, I have so many ideas of posts I want to share. I have been keeping notes in my classes over the past couple of weeks- when students get excited, and when they celebrate the little victories they didn’t even know they wanted to have in over numbers. I also have ideas from my recent trip to the NCTM Regional Conference in Boston, which I followed up with a couple of college tours. I will post them… soon. I want to document them, and I want to document how I am personalizing learning, and I want to document my curriculum growth. But first, I want to connect with something that seems to happen every fall…

Teachers, has this happened to you? Has your year begun to get away from you, and quickly? That is what is happening to me. Best intentions for success in all aspects, has quickly become a game of ‘which priority should I attend to today’? Is planning important? How about assessment? What about utilization of the assessment? Implementation??

I have chosen implementation. Of course, I plan. I have planning down as curriculum is my area of expertise, at least I am hoping so after all of this time and all of the money I spent on my degrees in curriculum. Plus, I just love planning. So, I plan, before AND during my implementation with students. But, the real priority is the learning of students, and with the miracle that is teaching that allows the students to have the power to push all of the teacher “stress” out of the window while I just teach them to love math and to learn math. I choose implementation over all else because if I leave nothing else in my wake after the sunset of my teaching career, it will be that math can be learned, and it can be fun!

I’d love to hear your thoughts, and welcome you to make this a collaborative venture.

Excitement over Content?

I mostly teach middle school math. It’s not usually the subject to which students look forward to returning from their summer. This year I tried to accentuate a version of what I have done in years past- engage students in how awesome numbers are, all while integrating the routines of the classroom. I mean, numbers are cool! So, this wasn’t too much of a stretch!

Early in a school year, one of the main routines that I think is critical to running a successful classroom is to teach what to do when students finish early. For me, if students are doing work that is meaningful, and math-related, for the entire period of time they are with me, the benefits will be plentiful- more teaching and learning time all around… and an exponential potential love for math!

However, teaching students the routine for finding interesting activities takes time in the first few weeks of school. I purposefully made lessons shorter than normal to provide time to practice going to the “extras.” I purposefully engaged the students in activities during the shorter lessons to make math learning fun, so that they would want math to continue after the lesson.

Sure, this year, I gave a few pre-assessments, and I also introduced my weekly skill assignments and procedures, however most of the time we kept it fun, we kept it new, we kept it about the numbers. For example, on the beginning of Palindrome Week, I showed the students a quick video about how this could be the last week until 2111, and then they were able to prove the video wrong with some eager thinking. That was exactly the lesson I wanted them to get out of the video, beyond what a palindrome was. I wanted them to learn to question the internet with their trust in themselves as math thinkers! So proud, so early in the year!! Then I taught them how to use addition to turn numbers into palindromes (403 + 304 = 707) and they were off to find the more challenging ones.

Two of my favorite overheard quotes of the day, from the middle schoolers:

“This is actually pretty easy. I’ve never done this before.”

And then when given the option of choosing what to do when finished my portion of the lesson, a student added, “Yes! We can continue the math!”

Mission accomplished. I have slowly moved into content, this third week of school, but my students are now engaged with numbers, and with math, and with themselves as math learners within our classroom.

There may be errors, but there was excitement… And the early middle schoolers, previously not excited about math, picked up on the concept, and became engaged. We are now ready for content.

Let’s Talk Math!

Welcome to my thoughts, and to this exploration of teaching and learning math, in school and at home. Welcome to my reflection, of education, of a career in transition. Welcome to my documentation of my own learning. Along the way I’d like to interact, to learn and reflect together, to provide you with new ways to approach math curriculum, and to open up a world in which we are all talking math! Thanks for joining me!

I invite you to explore the pages of the site and begin our learning journey by starting a conversation or signing up for updates. I will be posting about my first week soon.