Beginnings

Of all the things I could choose to blog about– my favorite cheesecake recipe, life as a full-time teacher and mother of five, my travels, favorite books that I’ve read– math was an unlikely choice. If you asked me five years ago to do this, start blogging about math, I would have a) asked, “What’s a blog?” and then b) run the other direction at the mere mentioning of math.

You see, from the time I was in middle school (or junior high as they called it back in the day), math has always evoked a sense of unease distress dread terror anxiety in me. Seeing test after test with my teachers’ glaring red marks were a constant reminder of my mathematical ineptness. As my aversion to math increased, my confidence withered away to almost nonexistence. My brain, I believed, was simply not made to understand, much less excel in, math. I had the epitome of a fixed mindset.

Fast forward twenty-some years. Reflecting upon the work of Carol Dweck on mindset and more recently, the work of Jo Boaler on math achievement, coupled with my experience teaching Cathy Fosnot’s Units, Contexts for Learning Mathematics, I experienced an epiphany of sorts. I began to see math not as something toΒ do but something to understand. Mistakes didn’t mean that I was dumb, but that my synapses were firing like crazy due to new learning. I was beginning to see math as more than simply a fork in the road– one path leading to “right,” the other to “wrong”– but rather as an endless sea of possibilities.

This transformation not only changed my mindset, it revolutionized my approach to teaching math. The fact that I find joy in the daily 90 minutes of Math Workshop speaks volumes. Thankfully, my enthusiasm has been contagious. But what if I had not undergone this transformation? What if I continued to secretly abhor the very subject I was trying to teach my students? The results, I suspect, would be disastrous. Math Workshop, for them, would be a time to perform, where only an elite few would be deemed worthy of being true math achievers, and the rest…Well, would not.

I would have continued to teach the way I was taught and more frighteningly, I would have found no fault in doing so. While I regret my pre-transformation days, I cannot dwell on them because I am too excited in the present, and for the future. While I’m happy with the changes I’ve made, I’m far from being satisfied. There is, I believe, an inherent danger in being satisfied with oneself (growth mindset speaking!). I want to be better. I need to be better. My kids deserve better than the math teacher they have today, and that’s why I’m doing this.

And so begins my journey into the MathBlogosphere. Equipped with nothing more than ambition, an oh-so-patient mentor (Thanks, Simon!), and an aging laptop, I take my first steps into the blogging world with a sense of trepidation.

But I don’t have anything brilliant to share.Β 

I will share the brilliance of my colleagues (like this Queen of Teaching/Educator Extraordinaire a.k.a. the unbelievably talented and lovely Jen Bearden) and of those who continue to enrich the world of math with passion, wonder, and creativity.

What if no one reads my blog?

I will write for myself– to reflect, plan, and improve.

What if they don’t like what I write?Β 

I will continue to write– my work is not perfect and I seek to improve.

Consider this a personal invitation to join me on this important journey by sharing your insights, experiences, and knowledge. I look forward to our learning together!

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6 thoughts on “Beginnings

  1. Simon Gregg says:

    I’ve often thought about that red ink correction thing. In some ways it’s very natural: the seat petrol light comes on in my car when I’m low on petrol. I don’t need to be told when there’s plenty there. And our mind works like that: we notice when things are wrong. I notice when a muscle hurts, I don’t notice all the muscles that are performing just fine. So, in some ways, our attention has a “negativity bias”. But it is a bias – a true audit would reflect all the things that are going well. The red ink might (and the approach it’s part of) achieve a short term correction – might, but it casts a shadow over the whole enterprise.

    It’s taken me much too long to come away from this deficit model of learning, that focuses on what’s not right, and to emphasise the joy and wonder, the power of the learner, the excellence of learning. I did quite well in maths at school – but I feel like that should be in quotes or something – because lessons were mostly pretty drab grey things, and I don’t think I was going out there and really seeing things, discovering things for myself or with my classmates.

    I really like this post, Mona. Yours is such a great story. The first part is all too common, even among teachers. There’s a huge need for turning the unease distress dread terror anxiety into contagious enthusiasm. I’m really looking forward to what else you have in store for us in 2016!

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    • aminuteinsecond says:

      “We notice when things are wrong.” Indeed, we do. It burns my retinas, for example, when I see a misspelled word. Unfortunately, Simon, I feel that your statement is especially true in the area of mathematics. “Wrong” may also be subjective. When we perceive something different than what we are used to, we may label it wrong. While my inner voice is screaming to lead this conversation to an entirely different avenue, I’ll do my best to stick to the topic πŸ™‚
      Gone are the days of “all or nothing” grading i.e. system of grading that awards either full points for a correct answer or zero points for a wrong answer and in which no partial credit is given. Teachers must look for evidence of understanding within their students’ work, even if at first glance it appears that everything is “wrong.” This is not done out of sympathy, as if to say, “Oh, poor thing, I’ll give him a point for trying, just to make him feel better,” but rather to clarify (for both teacher and student) what concepts have been mastered and at what point misconceptions begin to appear. For example, when solving the problem 72 – 58, a student may show the following thought process: 70 – 50 = 20
      8 – 2 = 6
      20 + 6 = 26
      72 – 58 = 26
      A teacher’s eyes may go straight to the answer, see that it’s incorrect, prompting use of the infamous red pen. In doing so, however, this teacher has overlooked some pretty great thinking. This student attempted to use a “break apart” or “splitting” method to subtract. While he subtracted the tens correctly, the error or misconception appears in the second step– subtracting the ones. Highlighting the student’s thought process first, and then guiding him to understand his error (only after we understanding it as teachers), could lead to such rich and meaningful discussion of number sense and base 10 and other things that only brilliant math teachers like my readers could come up with πŸ™‚
      Forgive me for the length of this reply– I now realize that this should have been a post in and of itself!

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  2. Jen Bearden says:

    Mona–this is beautiful!! I LOVE that you are putting yourself out there and I love that you started with math. I, too, have had that same transformation in terms of the do and understand parts of math. Cathy Fosnot units (along with Kara Imm and her amazing leadership) have TOTALLY changed my own understanding of how math works and have–like you–increased by excitement for teaching math. Because of both of those things, I believe my students are learning more. I am so proud that you are starting on this journey and sharing your thinking with the world. I am super excited to learn along with you in this space! Way to go, friend. πŸ™‚

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