How should students learn mathematics? This is the million dollar question.
Traditionally, mathematics learning has always been dictated by textbooks. In which students raise the question WHY? This meme says it all:
I recently surveyed teachers about how their experiences in math were and what would their ideal classroom look like. mathexperiences-27g5wid
To combat the disconnected nature of textbooks, there are many great innovative educators out there who have transformed mathematics in new ways. My favorite resources include:
- Fawn Nguyen’s Visual Patterns
- Dan Meyer’s 3 Acts Task
- Andrew Stadel’s Estimation 180
- 101 Questions
- Which one Doesn’t Belong
- Open Middle
- And I recently stumbled across this super awesome Graph of the Week from #nctmregionals where students analyze data of relevant information. Dr. Steve Wolk would be proud of this one for sure. I plan to give this at least once a week for my students to analyze as daily warm-up/discussion. One point of critique is that the questions for graph of the week can be better and more thought-provoking than just asking students what does x and y represent.
I did not stumble across these resources overnight. Over the years of attending professional development, collaborating with other teachers, and following @viemath’s warmup routine, these resources have become part of who I am as a teacher. The last thing I want students to do in my class is to just find the answer for x. There is literally no meaning behind that. But building skills such as estimating, predicting, questioning, analyzing, and providing evidence are all skills I want my students to develop. And these resources help open that door for students.
I had the privilege to attend National Council of Teachers of Mathematics NCTM’s Regional Conference this year in Chicago. At the conference, Karim Ani, Mathilicious founder could not have said it any better: “*Math is a tool to talk about interesting things; but math is also a tool to talk about important things.”
I agree with Ani 100%. His website provides teachers with resources of more important and interesting questions to give for students. Nevertheless, teachers must pay $360 a year to have access to these questions.
This is where my presentation comes in: Culture and Identity: Humanizing Mathematics, in which I argue, that teachers at the end of the day are the experts. We are experts in our field and we know how to come up with thought provoking questions for our students. We may even know how to set up systems to help our students generate these questions themselves. The main thing against us is time to plan meaningful lessons. But perhaps, less is more. Perhaps all we need to present to our students is an open ended task with an Impactful Wondering, and let them figure out the mathematical evidence to support their wonderings.
In my presentation, I shared how a group of 4-5 teachers sitting in the Complex Instruction Consortium professional development day, thought of an open question: Who has the best access to resources in our community? and transformed it into a project for students to figure out what are the important resources in their community, and how do they calculate the exact distances among those resources.
After sharing, I gave teachers the opportunity to brainstorm thought provoking questions that would require mathematical evidence. This is what they came up with, and I am in awe of the power that we have as educators to make meaningful tasks for our students.
The task kind of reminds me of Fermi Questions. But as math educators, if we are given a list of skills to have students master, we can easily embed important mathematical concepts where we believe would fit well.
True learning requires experimentation, trial and error, and exploring real world data to make sense of it. The question at large is, should educators have to pay for this type of information to teach students, or can they position themselves as the experts and create meaningful tasks for students? And when will they be given the time for this type of work? We must rethink what mathematics learning is: a series of rote steps through memorization and lectures or problem solving.