Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Secret to Math Genius

Not everyone loves math.   It’s very likely that you, dear reader, don’t love math.  I continually hear stories from educators about difficulties in math, avoidance of math, and even avoidance of math teachers.  But in my experience, some of the most forward-thinking, passionate, connected teachers, people you really should hang out with if you want to ponder the important questions in education – are math teachers.

Recently, I met with the Math Department Heads in our district.  The energy, the excitement, the rapid exchange of ideas, and the commitment to student learning above all, lit up the room - and made it very hard to move through the agenda.   The trouble, one teacher said as I tried to refocus the group on our agenda, is that we don’t talk anymore in our classrooms.  Why?  Because they have all made commitments to reduce lectures and increase students’ talking, practicing, figuring out, reflecting, manipulating, developing, creating  – and have created some version of the “flipped classroom” with lectures posted on website, moodles and blogs.   Below are some of the shifts they are making in their continued quest to ensure success in math for all students:
  • Moving from passive to active learning.
  • Moving toward personalized learning (using technology and peer learning to make this possible).
  • Moving from “quizzes” to “show what you know” (this may seem like a small shift but the difference between answer my questions to share your knowledge is vast).
  • Moving from silent rows (and hoarding answers) to encouraging and organizing students to “talk math” and to help each other.  
  • Moving away from teacher telling to student learning.  
  • Moving away from kids “running the gauntlet” of teacher expectations as one teacher put it - to ensuring that every student can get 100% (retests are the norm).

Their stance is met with some resistance from students who can’t quite believe them when they say - yes, you can do it again, yes, you can talk to each other, the answer, as one teacher puts it, is just “the dessert,” if you want to 100% you can get it - it’s up to you.  But their incredulity shouldn’t surprise us.  Don’t most of us believe that 100% in math is reserved for “those” kids?  The geniuses?  One teacher told a story of a student who was failing miserably.  Finally, after observing the (surprising) success of peers, the student asked, do you really mean we can redo anything (in other words, that failure isn’t the point?).  Yes, the teacher said.  Again.  (But it’s hard to really believe these ideas that are at odds with the way things have always been done.)  The student redid the test and got 95%.  Now you know my secret, the student said sheepishly to the teacher.  

Imagine if the secret math genius in each student was allowed out?  In our district, led by such extraordinary teachers, it won’t take long for math phobia to be as quaint as a fear of falling off the edge of a flat earth.

1 comment:

  1. Fabulous! This is exciting to read about as you're right, many of us were "math phobic" in school. If this type of teaching is occuring it will make a huge difference to student learning. Thank you for sharing this wonderful work.