Thursday, July 31, 2014

There is never enough time...

One of the biggest problems I have encountered as a math teacher is time with my students and how there is never enough of it.  This is true not only during the school year, but it's something I noticed during the SHSAT prep class that I taught this Summer at my school.

During the school year, I officially have 24 Common Core math standards to teach my 7th graders across five domains (Ratios & Proportional Relationships, The Number System, Expressions & Equations, Geometry, and Statistics & Probability).  That doesn't sound too bad, right?  Within six of the standards, however, there are sub-standards.  When you account for them, the number of standards my 7th graders have to be proficient in by June almost doubles to 43.  That's 43 standards in 40 weeks of school, not including days I don't see my students for various reasons (field trips, half-days, days they are absent...).  That's assuming that they come to me in September already proficient in the K - 6th grade standards, so that I can kick off September with 7th grade material (PS that has yet to happen in seven years of teaching).

In the Principles and Standards for School Mathematics, put out by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in 2000, it states that "All students should have the opportunity and the support necessary to learn significant mathematics with depth and understanding."  It's hard to go too deep into mathematics, when you have 43 things to teach in less than 40 weeks.

There has been progress (at least in my opinion) with the implementation of the Common Core State Standards in New York over the past few years.  Prior the the CC, New York state had 64 math standards that 7th graders had to be proficient in.

Nothing is more frustrating when you are exploring a good math problem with your students, and they are going with it, and exploring it and asking questions, and making connections, and making sense of it for themselves, and the bell rings, and class is over, and the beautiful and sometimes messy mathematics that you were exploring together, is over and because you have eight more standards to teach in this unit, and only 4 days to do it in, or worse, we don't have time to continue this discussion because it's not something that will be covered on the state test.

Like I said, it's frustrating.

And sad.

With each year, I like to think that I've gotten better and planning out my units so that I can do the best I can with the precious time with my students that I have.  I also am proud to say, that I've become much more comfortable going with the flow of our class explorations and being OK (not great, but OK) with not covering every standard in place of good, rich mathematical discussions.  I have to keep in mind that it's not necessarily about mastering all 43 CC math standards, but getting my students to be OK with problem solving, and trying new things, being open to the idea of learning mathematics, even when it doesn't make sense.  If I can do that, then  yeah, it's worth it.

Monday, July 28, 2014

#MTBoS and @TmathC and my ideal Summer reading list

Three posts in one day?  It must be Summer vacation.

Last post for today, I promise (mostly because I still have to plan for my SHSAT math prep classes that I am teaching this week).  But another reason for starting up this blog is to join the numerous math educators that are part of the mathtwitterblogosphere and TwitterMathCamp.  What are the MTBoS and TmathC?  Well from what I understand, it's basically a social media community for math teachers.  I first learned about it from my friend and fellow math teacher, James.  The more I read, the more and more excited I get about my own math blogging adventure!

In addition to joining the MTBoS and following TmathC, I have also decided to include my ideal professional reading book list for this Summer:

  1. Driven by Data by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo
  2. The Power of Teacher Teams by Vivian Troen and Katherine C. Boles
  3. The Math Coach Field Guide by Carolyn Felux and Paula Snowdy
  4. Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess      
  5. Learning From Coaching by Nina Morel
  6. Putting the Practices into Action by Susan O'Connell and John SanGiovanni 
  7. Teaching Problems and the Problems of Teaching by Magdalene Lampert
The first two books are required reading by my school, but the others I have heard about on my own and sound interesting.  Now, practically I know I will not be able to read and take meaning from all of them (and I know that this is a problem I tend to have - I love thinking big picture and end up often times getting in over my head and overwhelmed and not finishing what I start) but my hope is that I break up my reading into manageable chunks and use this blog as a way to hold myself accountable and to help digest the material.  Hopefully I will be able to avoid getting overwhelmed this time around.

Why Do American Stink at Math?

So I just finished reading this article about math teaching in the US and Japan:


It was an excellent read and definitely one of the inspirations for starting this blog.  It talks about how it is generally agreed upon that the mathematics education in this country is sub-par, not because we disagree about what are the best teaching practices, but because of the lack of support for teaching this way.  

Good teaching is truly an art form.  You have to balance content, with classroom management, with student engagement, with assessment.  Good teachers have to know their content well, and this is especially true of math teachers.  I can't speak for teachers of other subject areas, but at their core, good math teachers have to always be math learners as well.  I mean, isn't that the beauty of mathematics, that there is always something more to learn?

Being that it is almost August, I have been loosely thinking about next school year.  We ended last school year with some curriculum planning and, of course, I have been pinning tons of new ideas to my Education/Work/Teaching/Math Pinterest board so I already begun to plant the seeds for the upcoming school year.  Hopefully this blog will also be a positive source of reflection and feedback for me for the upcoming school year.       

Why now?

It may seem kind of weird that I am starting a blog about my experiences teaching (and learning) math in the Summer, but this has been a long time coming.

I am currently going into my eighth year teaching middle school mathematics.  Which is impressive for someone who stated in their freshman year of college (11 years ago) that they were taking their last math class ever.  Two masters degrees in teaching later, here I am.

I've always been a fan of online journals, so it makes sense that I would use this form of social media to reflect, grow, and share my experiences teaching and learning mathematics.  It's just taken me a while to get started.  Last year, when I became the Math Lead Teacher at my public middle school in New York City, I started a blog to share my experiences, but didn't keep up with it.  I'm hoping I will be more faithful with this one, but only time will tell with that.

So why now?

This past school year, I felt like I stagnated.  Yes, I know I've gotten much better as a teacher than I was when I started eight years ago, but this year, my growth slowed way down.  I skimmed by.  I was on auto-pilot.  I got results, but my professional self wasn't challenged.  That doesn't, by any means, mean my school year was easy, by the way.  It's actually kinda funny that when I started teaching, I couldn't wait to be good enough to be on auto-pilot, and now that I am here, I don't feel as satisfied as I thought I would be.

So what's my objective with this blog?  It's simple.  To become a better math teacher.

I know what I do is important.  Teaching is, after all, the greatest act of optimism (Colleen Wilcox).

I want to grow.  I want to learn.  I want to become better at what I do professionally, and hopefully this blog will help me get there.  I hope, by reflecting on and sharing my ups and downs, I can learn from my mistakes.  I hope to open up my classroom doors and get feedback from other educators.  I hope to get over this plateau that I have reached in my profession.  So here I am.  Let's see where this journey takes me...