This is just a test post while I figure out how to send out a tweet automatically as I post. IF you got here from seeing the tweet, please let me know! Much thanks.
First, a little context:
My granddaughter is über-prepared and excited to enter Kindergarten in a few weeks. Her 5th (unicorn-themed) birthday falls 22 days after the state cut-off date, so last May she had to demonstrate end-of-year proficiency in order to enter Kindergarten 22 days early. Yes, END of year. She is (without any bias whatsoever, right?) a happy, curious, enthusiastic learner. Like many kids, she’s a sponge, soaking up everything in her path, freakishly observant, perseveres like nobody’s business, memory like a steel trap. Sings at the top of her lungs, too. Just the other day, she was reminding me her bedtime was 8 o’clock and asked me what my bedtime was. I told her usually around 10, and she comes right back with, “That’s two minutes after my bedtime.” Not the right time unit, but definitely knew the difference was two. Damn, girl.
She also confided this little gem: “I hope we don’t have to do math in Kindergarten.”
Somewhere in her short life-time of learning, she has developed an idea of what “math” is, and she already dreads it. This is the girl who counts to 100 just for the hell of it, points out patterns she sees, and makes numerical comparisons. Her parents did not drill her with flash cards or give her a barrage of worksheets to complete; they merely helped her learn the language and meaning of numbers by counting with her—steps up to the top, apples on the page, carrots on her plate. Some other ideas, like patterns, developed in pre-school. Yet she does not want to do math in Kindergarten. Incredible. I was so floored I did not have the sense to ask her more about her concerns, a missed opportunity I hope to rectify soon.
Speaking of incredible, The Incredibles 2 was a summer movie that did not disappoint. There’s a connection here, trust me. (Small spoiler ahead. Skip a bit if you need to.)
In the movie, Mr. Incredible is trying to help his son, Dash, with his homework. Which homework? MATH, of course, and everybody is Super Frustrated. Dad wonders if new math has been invented since he was in school, and Dash informs him that he is not doing it the way the book says to do it.
Is this funny? Sort of, maybe, I don’t know. It IS definitely something that many (most?) people relate to, a shared, all-too-familiar reality, an inside joke. Oh, goodie; math, the dreaded subject that has the power to unite us through misery, generation after generation. Hahaha?
On the way home, my husband just knew I was going to
bitch about address that scene. If “doing math” is perceived as a frustrating, required chore in our culture, even to an almost five year old, doesn’t that say something is definitely NOT RIGHT and CHANGE is urgent? How can our culture jokingly, begrudgingly accept this as normal, even perpetuate it? If so many learners, from toddlers to great grandparents, from educators to policy makers, believe with conviction that “real” math is the drills/rules/tests/memorizing you do in and at school, (and you are either good/fast/smart/superior or bad/slow/stupid/inferior), while simultaneously denying “real-ness” to any mathematical reasoning beautifully and successfully applied outside —or even inside—school, doesn’t that scream volumes that something is MOST SERIOUSLY DEFECTIVE and EFFECTIVE TRANSFORMATION is effing imperative?
There’s plenty of resources and information available explaining to how we, as a society, evolved into this detrimental not-really-learning culture. You can’t blame kids or their parents; look at the learning experiences they have had! Unfortunately, there is a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle going on with school and home experiences that is stubbornly impervious to healthier, alternative messages. Status quo is a powerful, yet strangely invisible super villain, my friends. MTBoS participants, Desmos, and Illustrative Math , are just a few of many top-notch super heroes fighting the good fight (FOR FREE!), but lets face it, many more are needed in order for new visions to gain a foothold and gather enough momentum to become the established, embraced norm in our schools, homes, and communities.
In an effort to arm myself with information and a vision and thoughtful strategies to BE THE CHANGE, a teaching friend and I have started reading Creating Cultures of Thinking. It inspires and resonates with me. FWIW, below are my take-away notes on the first two chapters. I happen to have time right now to process at this level, which feels luxurious and worthwhile and helpful.
I know you are busy because you’re educators, yet I invite and urge you read this book and examine your beliefs. This is a call to action, folks, worthy of your precious time. Please share your thoughts, insights, learning stories, and/or questions with me as you go, and if you are in a classroom (any content, any grade) describe the shifts you are consciously making and their impact on classroom and school culture. Involve others as much as you can, including me! If you live within driving distance (say an hour or so from Wilsonville, OR), I would be delighted to get a cuppa or glassa with you and dig into hidden messages and visible thinking.
Grab your cape and let’s go.
We must settle for nothing less!
There may be some food for thought here. Not a lot, just a morsel.
My daughter owns her own dessert catering business. As it is a one-woman show and its tough to turn a profit, I help her two days a week in her kitchen. Of course, I can easily follow a recipe she has kindly transferred from her head to paper (I never memorize them), but sometimes she asks me to mix something that is less specific, measurement-wise. Like buttercream.
Buttercream fillings for her French almond macarons* are my weekly task; she never provided proportions, just ingredients, and you just make “enough” and make it “stiff enough”. A bit too vague and nerve-wracking for me at first, I feel I get it right now—most of the time.
Today, the conversation went something like this:
“Remember that cream cheese pastry filling I had you make a couple of weeks ago?”
“Uh, no…maybe. It has cream cheese and….?” I’m fishing for a recipe here.
“Powdered sugar, egg yolk, vanilla.”
“OK….How much cream cheese?” (Still fishing.)
“I don’t know, start with 8 oz. Make it stiff, like buttercream.”
Again with the vagueness, but I can do this, right? Its not complicated.
Well, as I mix, the consistency is not at all like buttercream, so I keep adding more sugar, beating the hell out of it. Finally, I pull her away from her baking; its getting stiffer, but kinda gooey and weird…is that the way it is supposed to be?
She takes one look at it and asks, with some angst, “HOW much sugar did you put in?!?”
“Well, several scoops; it took that much to make it stiff.” I do not like the direction this conversation is headed.
“What? That’s waaaay too much sugar. I said ‘NOT stiff like buttercream’. Do you remember what it looked like last time?”
Shit. “No! I really don’t! And…..well….I heard….‘stiff, like buttercream.’”
We look at each other wildly, almost laughing/freaking out, me feeling stupid and her feeling IDK what, then she quickly moves to finding a solution to the ample mess I made. (I hate hate hate making these kinds of mistakes, and to her credit, she is always gracious.) Now that the pastry filling has an emotional attachment, you can bet I WILL remember making it!
So what is the take-away here? I’m not really sure (you tell me), but I feel something happened that speaks to the complexities of teaching and learning, or sheds light on risk and trust, or addresses memory and communication. Or. Little moments like these take place all the time in our lives, at least they do in mine, that at the very least remind us what its like to be in the vulnerable position of learner. Ah, empathy as a guide. Now there’s a take-away!
* Yes, only one ‘o’. Macaroons with two o’s are something else entirely. The first is a hoity-toity, finicky-to-make meringue and almond meal cookie. Filled with delicious, flavored buttercream, of course. The second is a mostly coconut drop cookie, like a haystack. Both, however, are naturally GF, so there’s that.
For more time this afternoon than I’d care to admit, I’ve been attempting to organize my ongoing and somewhat rambling thoughts around teaching, learning, and mentoring. Much of my reflecting goes on in my head and never gets formalized somehow via blogging or journaling; worse yet, I don’t have much opportunity to actually talk with other educators about these kinds of questions that, IMO, really, really matter.
This graphic is a product of my organizational efforts, and it became my first ever #MTBoS tweet. Amazingly, I immediately received a comment and a ♥️ . Well, that was cool, but I have more to say 😉
It is my belief that these urgent questions (and their natural sub-questions, including WHY?) should be seriously, honestly, and throughly addressed, ideally as a school, or at least as individual classroom teachers. How we respond speaks volumes about our pedagogical beliefs, the culture of our schools or classrooms and, for better or worse, most definitely impacts students and their learning.
I invite you to consider any or all of these questions, and to share your thoughts in the comments. Or on twitter, if you can find my tweet! (Sorry, I don’t know how to direct you there…) Over time, I will do the same. ♥️
Once in college I was docked a point on a math test because I did not use the variable the problem told me to use. What a rebel. My work was otherwise fine, mind you, just had the “wrong” variable.
I tell you this because early this morning, maybe a tad too early, I read Fawn Nguyen ’s recent post “Scoring an Ordered List” ; at first I took what she was saying seriously because to me, everything she writes is solid gold. (You should probably read it to get where I’m going with this.) I gushed about her in my last post, for heaven’s sake. Why is the great Fawn obsessing with points? I started feeling some panic. WHY WHY WHY is she obsessing with points? I was flummoxed.
Then the caffeine kicked in and it dawned on me. She’s just messing with us. Having some fun with obsessing with points, and inviting us to join in, math-geeky.
Or maybe she’s making a point about points, in which case she has gone platinum.
Awarding and denying points is what many teachers do, across all content areas, even if other aspects of their pedagogy employ Best, or at least Better, Practices. Somewhere between arbitrary and intentional, they determine points per problem, points per quiz, per essay, per whatever. Preferably the points add up to something that can easily be turned into a percentage so letter grade convertions are a snap.
Why? Because it’s what what they know, what they believe they are supposed to do, its what everyone expects. It’s another one of those pesky, unexamined “givens” in the dystopian Game of School. I don’t know if that’s the right use of dystopian here, but I like it so its staying.
Determine total points possible, deduct points for wrong-ness, calculate a score, assign a grade. So math-y.
You can find scores of graphics like these online, which supports my statement about the Game. I find the emojis particularly
This poster is hanging in a school I frequent: ‘Grades are not given, they are earned.’
I digress. Returning to Fawn’s scenario, suppose a teacher decides that the problem was worth X points, and to receive said points, every number has to be in the correct location. Black and white, not even one shade of grey. That is certainly the way a computer program would determine whether so-called feedback should be “Awesome! You Rock!” or “Incorrect.” Of course this means that if Kat writes the numbers greatest to least, she would be told she is ONE-HUN-DRED-PER-CENT-WRR-ONG, striking yet another blow to her growth mindset.
An alternative (that I am sure Fawn and many other awesome teachers use) would be to skip the points, look at work holistically, and ask Kat a question or two. The goal is to understand her thinking, to gauge what she understands and where her misconceptions may lie. Kat either needs a reminder to read and follow directions with greater care or a conversation around the words least and greatest. Easy peasy.
Just for kicks and giggles, here’s another example: Suppose I’m checking to see if my students can correctly follow order of operations to simplify expressions. Dougie clearly demonstrates mastery of this skill— nothing out of order in his work— yet it contains a minor calculation faux pas or two. (Been there, done that. Lost points.) I am NOT going to deduct points or even determine he is not meeting expectations. I am going to PASS Dougie on that particular skill, period.
There’s a significant difference between 1) using student work to inform both the teacher and learner so meaningful feedback can happen and learning can continue, and 2) using student work in order to pass judgement. Which should be valued, empowering all students to think critically, creatively, to make sense of (insert content area here), or rewarding some students for “correct” imitation and memorization? The first requires, if I may, a balanced, healthy, and inclusive teacher-student learning relationship; the second also involves the student, but is unhealthy and detrimental to learning because it also involves power.
Last October I was out of town during the NW Math Conference held in Portland, OR. I was pretty bummed, especially when I read that Fawn Nguyen was the breakfast keynote speaker. OK, “bummed” is not anywhere strong enough. I ended up getting up at 5 that morning to drive back to Portland (do you know how freakishly dark it is along I-84 at 5 in the morning?) just to go to that breakfast. The food was meh, but Fawn was lovely, wonderful, smart, amazing, funny….as expected; then I hightailed it back to my other commitment.
Months later, I am finally getting around to writing about something she included in her presentation that stood out for me. (There were many somethings. Plus, she made me cry at the end.)
From Jordan Ellenberg’s book, How Not to be Wrong, she shared and spoke about this graphic:
I have re-constructed it with blanks, because I think it is really cool, discussion-worthy, and relevant for ALL subjects:
More recently, I came across this graphic on Steve Bohnam’s blog:
Which I also modified, because I am going with the premise that more discourse and sense-making can take place if there is a little less information.
I think both of these these graphics could launch some amazing conversations around and examinations of practice. Notice and wonder, kids! As always, please share your thoughts; comments are open.
Like you, I have a zillion half-baked thoughts and ideas going on in my head. Stuff that I’m reflecting on, stuff that I find interesting, perplexing, important, and would love to talk about.
One of the things that keeps my thoughts from showing up here is a silly yet persistent notion that whatever I post needs to be Complete and Polished. Insightful. Worthy. Intelligent. Helpful. Because that’s how Everybody Else’s blogs look to me.
But if I believe (as I do) that the primary purpose of this blog is for my learning and growth, then it stands to reason that it is completely acceptable for me to share thoughts that are still rough, still in need of additional reflection, and definitely in need of feedback (hint hint). Writing helps me focus and gain some clarity, and lack of some imagined perfection or level of “doneness” should not prevent me from posting. Right?
With that said, here’s a taste of what’s rattling around in my mind of late:
Calculating is not mathematics.
Spelling is not writing.
Decoding is not reading.
Memorizing is not learning.
So what is?
Noticing, wondering, questioning, exploring, making sense of, using, testing, revising, expressing, connecting, analyzing, creating….
When a classroom or school or societal culture values performance and test scores, then teaching and learning evolve around that which that can be easily tested and graded. Facts and rehearsed processes. Right and Wrong answers. Sort to accelerate and remediate. Rewards and punishments, smart and…below grade level.
The development and questioning of ideas is messier, less quantifiable, harder to teach, harder to nail down. It’s much more difficult to describe a students growth over time than it is to rank them. More challenging (and rewarding!) to work with a student’s competencies and current understanding than to fault them for their deficits and errors. A great shift in values needs to take place; teachers and students will spend their time and efforts differently. What does this look like? What’s my role? How much time will this take? Yikes, what about the risks?!
Teaching is complex. Learning is complex. Learning about teaching is complexly complex. Formal and informal professional development tends to focus on examining, questioning, and improving what teachers and students do and say in the classroom. Planning and launching lessons, selecting worthwhile tasks and activities, anticipating student responses, questioning strategies, orchestrating discussions, making connections, closing the lesson….perplexity, curiousity, intellectual need, genuine engagement….active learning culture, growth mindsets, metacognition…. ALL REALLY REALLY GREAT and REALLY REALLY IMPORTANT and REALLY REALLY NECESSARY.
Yet the Student Learning Experience encompasses more than “The Lesson”. What about homework? What about assessment? Grades? What about __________? Without examining and questioning and improving ALL components, without implementing changes simultaneously, progressive efforts become at best undermined and at worst derailed and rejected. What’s the point (asks a student) to make sense of these ideas or persevere on this task, if they only thing I will be tested on for a grade (the only thing that matters) will be whether or not I can calculate the right answer? Why should I be curious? Why bother making connections? Explain my reasoning? Transfer ideas? Develop relational understanding? Just tell me the trick/hack/rule. That’s all I need to survive.
That’s what my dad did. That’s what my grandma did. That’s all math is.