This is my second year at ESA and my 7th year as a math teacher. Since my first year of teaching, I’ve always loved the sense of problem-solving at my feet. I love thinking about how to fit this magical puzzle of real student engagement, mixed with this sense of students feeling competent and like they’ve authentically learned something useful. As an educator and an amateur researcher, I’m always changing something about my instruction—and that’s predominantly why teaching always feels refreshing, exciting, and never boring.
Despite having a wonderful year teaching Trigonometry and Algebra 2 last year, I knew that something had to dramatically change this year. Students must have more play opportunities—and if not for the sake of engagement, for the sake of authentically learning in a way that connects to their life experiences. At the same time, I feel very aware of the realities in the math world, especially for the average 16 or 17-year-old. How are students even supposed to engage with curious play, especially when they already walk in with vast differences in skill and math foundations? How are students going to be ready to play with math, when they have the very real anxiety of performing well on the math section of the SAT? How might we balance the skill instruction needed to access the “curious play” we aspire to in all classes?
Therein lies my issue. I must have to change everything and start all over, right?
Well, not everything. I’ve decided to make progress in smaller authentic moments—finding little ways to shift “procedure” into “play.” Sometimes the challenge of making a product–without any teacher directions–is so much more fun and authentic than anything I could have prescribed to students.
But in addition to those little moments, I’ve been thinking bigger picture, too. This year I’ve decided to drastically change the content of my classes. After reversing the order of the semesters (starting fall semester with Algebra 2, and moving Trigonometry to the spring), I also decided to change the scope of Algebra 2. This class would no longer be an exploration of just functions (linear, quadratic, and cubic). The existing curricula, while it felt very “neat,” and “tidy,” also felt very procedural and…well…boring. Where was the exploration? Where was the curious play? Where were the obvious opportunities for students to make claims and prove others wrong?
So that’s what we’re doing. The first third of the semester will be building skills—applying procedures, learning how to graph, form equations, plot data in a table. But the second two thirds will be Statistics at large…how we use them to explain the (sometimes absurd) concept of “being normal,” how we establish confidence in our claims from them…how we are sometimes taken advantage of when statistics are misused.
We are going to launch these two units with questions generated by students…stay tuned for progress and updates!
Ok so don’t laugh but my first year teaching at ESA I taught Math, Algebra. I am not by any means a mathematician and my class was very low skilled. I also felt that math through play was extremely important. So on Fridays we would play math games to reinforce skills. I started to feel like this may have been too elementary and wanted them to become natural problem solvers. So at the start of each week, I would pose a problem- math story, usually related to a real world event/problem. We would break down the problem, identify key language that helps us determine which what the actual problem was asking us to solve and formulas, and equations we could use to help us plan it. We essential made a plan for how we would approach trying to solve the problem. The following class, students would test their plans. I would provide manipulatives, calculators or whatever I felt they needed to be successful and students would test, fail and replan for a solution. My mini-lesson on this day would be the last 20 minutes of class and it usually was centered around what students did in class during this “experiment phase”.At the end of this lesson, homework was to consider where they may have made an error and self reflect on their learning. I would read them and make my lesson for the next day. The following day I would provide them with 2-3 ways they could continue to work on solving the problems. Usually at this point the students had a better understanding of the problem and were able to work to come to a solution. The last day would be some writing about the process, errors, reasons for the errors and any questions/ concerns or next steps.
I’m interested in using statistics to explain the concept of “being normal” – we might be able to co-plan something for my human behavior course?!