Saturday, March 22, 2014

Don't you want math to be better for your kids?

That's not the way I learned it! And if it was good enough for me, then it's good enough for my kid! (Along with either: "I was bad at math." or "I was good at math.")
That's how I interpret some of the posts trying to pass themselves off as examples of "bad Common Core math problems" (Google it and take a look at some of the images). Justin Aion has a great post that points out the problem with associating these examples with the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics (CCSSM). However, even if these examples are decoupled from the CCSSM, there's still the sentiment that these new math approaches are flawed.

Take this post, for example. The parent's letter says it all:

From Jeff Severt (some context)

"simplification is valued over complication" writes the Frustrated Parent. But is the parent's approach the simplest way to compute the difference between 4,000,002 and 3,999,999? As math educators, we encourage young mathematicians to build up a variety of computational tools so that they can attack any problem with confidence and phronesis.

Recently, my class explored the thinking inherent in the work of these third grade girls.

From The Big Dinner 
This was a Big Idea on the Multiplication and Division Landscape, Proportional Reasoning, that was new to nearly all of my preservice elementary teachers. Consequently, I followed up with a Think Aloud to reinforce the Big Idea and connected it to the CCSSM 3.OA.B.5.

Afterwards, one of the preservice teachers said, "I've never seen this before. Why?" Why, indeed. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

How is it different in March?

Winter returned last night. It wasn't too bad here but around Michigan the temperatures fell (along with some significant snow in the southeast part of the state). The reaction on Twitter and Facebook made me wonder how we go from having fun playing in the snow
to wanting to commit snowman murder in less than three months. 
It's probably related to perspective. When the snow is fresh and new, it's easy to get excited about the change in season. But after a few months of bundling up and shoveling snow, we can't wait for warmer weather.

Unfortunately, complaining about the weather does nothing but put me in a bad mood. So we try to make the best of it by staying active
Kathy skiing from our cabin in the UP
and exploring new places created by the very cold we wish would go away.
Eben Ice Caves
What does this have to do with education? I think the same thing happens in a lot of our classes. While there is initial excitement about a new school year, students and teachers quickly get stuck in a rut of doing the same thing day-after-day. I once heard Debbie Miller say (in regards to the Gradual Release of Responsibility), "If you're doing the same thing in February and March that you were doing in September and October, you're doing it wrong." As teachers, we need to find ways to keep everyone active and explore new ideas and making the best of it.

Before Spring Break, I asked my students what was working and what they wanted me to change. I used their suggestions to make adjustments to the upcoming unit. They had some really good ideas about combining some assignments and addressing new areas. One group wants cookies.

Nice try.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Which character are you?

WARNING The following post contains incomplete thoughts that might be uncomfortable to some readers. The author is simply attempting to write his way to understanding. Readers looking for coherent thoughts about teaching are encouraged to seek elsewhere. Possible Side Effects: head shaking, eye rolling, and muttering.
Some stories are meant to be told, not just read. Fred Stella reminded me of this as he recited the first chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. The translation by Edwin Arnold helped, but it was Fred who brought the text to life. His inflection and gestures helped to give the sense that we were a part of the scene being described.

And according to Fred, that was the point of the Bhagavad Gita. He explained, "In myths, like dreams, we ought to be able to see ourselves in all of the characters." Consequently we are able to identify with everyone in the story, regardless of whether the character is good or bad.

Maybe that's why those Which Character Are You? tests bother me so much. In good storytelling, I can see myself as being anyone in the story - not just Aberforth Dumbledore.
What does this have to do with teaching? I'm not sure. However, I am convinced that good teaching is related to good storytelling. Therefore, I wonder how the "story" we are telling in our lessons is inviting learners to relate to all the "characters." The open questions described by Marian Small come to mind, but I think there's more to it than that.

I'm still thinking about this, but I wanted to get this out there in case anyone else had some wisdom about it. I'll get back to you if anything more comes to me. And don't blame me if this post left you wanting more - you were warned.