Category Archives: Professional Development

Impactful Wonderings

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.

Summer Curriculum Project: Cultural Relevant Pedagogy in Algebra

This summer I am proud to share that I am on a team of very talented and dedicated educators teaching for social justice. We are 8th grade algebra teachers from a Chicago suburb and use the Connected Mathematics Program (CMP3). All of our algebra classes use the same pacing guide and we appreciate that this curriculum dives deeper into the mathematics and currently 80% of our 8th graders test into Geometry for the high school. However, one struggle is relating the curriculum to our diverse population of learners. We want to embrace students more as many often ask “When are we every going to use this?”  Yes, if you teach CMP3, Mugwumps are the cutest! But if we consider whether we are preparing our students for the 21st century through Mugwumps, we have a long way to go.

Our goal this summer is to implement social justice math into the 8 books from CMP3:

  • Thinking with Mathematical Models (Linear Functions)
  • Looking For Pythagoras (Pythagorean Theorem)
  • Growing Growing Growing ( Exponential Functions)
  • Frogs Fleas and Painted Cubes (Quadratic Functions)
  • Butterflies Pinwheel and Wallpaper (Transformations)
  • Say it with Symbols (Solving Equations)
  • It’s in the System (Systems of linear Equations and Inequalities)
  • Function Junction (All of the Functions and more)

I admit, this is no easy feat. And we are not seeking to perfect this over the summer. We are opening the conversation, collecting resources, and providing frameworks to help teachers figure out how to begin teaching Algebra through a social justice lens.

After our first meeting we have established the following agenda:

  • Essential Question: How do you use Algebra to describe equities and inequities locally, state-wide, and globally? (I am considering another question as well…since math is all about proving and justifying ideas, perhaps a broader question is Why? How can you Prove it?)
  • Creating Projects for CMP3: We plan to incorporate Project Based Learning using projects to replace some units. Two current units we are developing projects for are: BPW where students learn about transformations after watching this AWESOME video about The Complex Geometry of Islamic Design by Ted ED, research geometry and design in other cultures, code their own design, and 3D print it to create tessellations AND LFP where students analyze the map of Chicago and discuss distances (exact, shortest) , origin, etc.
  • Student Created Warm-ups: Instead of the traditional can you do x amount of problems in 5 minutes as a warm-up, how cool would it be for students to create/bring in their own warm-ups for meaningful discussions using graphs and data about current events topics. Of course teachers would need to provide an example and model it for students first. But analyzing data and graphs, determining the relevance and accuracy is a key 21st century skill; my professor Dr. Steven Wolk would totally agree.
  • Creating Guide for Teachers:  Kind of like a How-To begin or FAQ for teachers interested in implementing bits and pieces.
  • Creating a Platform for Teachers to ask Questions and Collaborate: We were thinking about creating a working Google Document, but perhaps this blog maybe the first start!

At the end of this summer, we hope to share our resources for all teachers interested in teaching social justice math.