I’m becoming a mathematician.
For a long time, I was a high school math teacher, but I’ve moved so far beyond that now. Not by going back to university, but by going right back to grade 1.
Yes, that’s right, I went back to grade 1 to become a mathematician.
Even though I was the top student in “math” at my high school, I didn’t really learn math at all. I learned rules. I memorized rules.
Rules like – when presented with “this”, do “this” and you’ll get the right answer. Check the back of the book to make sure. Practice lots, then write the test and get 100%!
Or, here’s the formula, plug the numbers into the right place, and the answer on the teacher’s answer key will pop out, giving you full marks.
That was the game. I was really good at it!
As a parent, I wanted my kids to be good at math too. I wanted them to get great marks in math because that opens doors.
But in reality, being “good at math” wasn’t what I was encouraging at all. I was encouraging my “version” of math – rule memorization and correct application [getting the teacher’s answer and showing how you got there exactly how the teacher asks you to].
But my kids weren’t nearly as eager as I had been to spend endless hours memorizing the right rules to use in the right places.
So what changed me? When did I start becoming a mathematician?
As part of my work, I had the opportunity to take my P/J Mathematics Part 1 AQ, in a unique way, with other education leaders, in a blended online format interspersed with intense f2f learning sessions.
On the first day, we were asked to “do some math”. I was panicky. What if I couldn’t remember how?
And that’s the question, right? Why should I have to “remember how”?
In the first problem we solved together, I began to understand that there was no one right way to solve it. My way of figuring it out was as interesting as the way others chose to work. We became more interested in how we saw the problem than we were in the answer, because how others saw it was fascinating!
This is especially well-illustrated by our expert friend and colleague Dr. Jo Boaler in this section of her TEDxStanford talk (full talk posted below).
Math is beautiful. It’s fun, it’s intriguing, it’s social, it can be a game. But I think for many parents, it’s still about memorizing rules and getting the answer the teacher wants.
In their recent podcast, Getting Parents Ready for New Context of School, Will Richardson and Bruce Dixon examine the responsibility we have as education leaders to share what we know about learning with parents who don’t necessarily encounter this kind of information in the normal course of their lives. They recognize that parents often have a low bar for change, wanting their own school experiences to be repeated for their children.
Borrowing from Piaget, simply repeating what we did when we were in school is not the purpose of education, and it isn’t good enough for our kids.
As I work through #notabookstudy, and I read the classic work of Dr. Cathy Fosnot, I learn the importance of teaching our children as “Young Mathematicians at Work“, developing strategies and number fluency, building automaticity and understanding number relationships.
As education leaders, how do we invite parents to hold hands with their children and become mathematicians with them?
We’ve been exploring this in our #notabookstudy Twitter chats. (See the Storify for our answers)
Imagine what we can achieve when parents, children and teachers work as mathematicians, together!
Featured image by Sergey Zoltkin on Unsplash
Jo Boaler’s Full TEDxStanford Talk:
No, Teaching Math the “Old-Fashioned Way” Won’t Work (Paul Wells, Toronto Star)