Primary Thieves, Part 1
By Jamie Duncan, posted October 24, 2016 —
As a first-grade teacher, I lived in Literacy
Land for the first thirteen years of my career. Nearly all primary-grade
teachers live there. It’s a great place to be; learning to read, write, and
comprehend is critical. Sure, we took day trips to Math Land, but it was less
comfortable for us as teachers. We weren’t really sure where Math Land would
take us next. We had heard that the older grades were throwing math parties,*
but we weren’t invited. So, we just kept to ourselves, doing what we thought
was best: using manipulatives and modeling for students in whatever way we (or
the publisher’s curriculum) thought they should solve problems.
Within only the last three years have I been
invited to the math party, and I all too easily could have checked the decline box on the R.S.V.P. I’m here to
say to all primary-grade teachers, “Stop waiting to be invited to the math
the purposes of this post, let’s define a math party as an event where people
come together to learn more about both mathematical content and pedagogy
specific to the teaching and learning of mathematics.
There are always going to be more intermediate,
middle school, and high school math parties—unless you yourself change that.
Yes, you. Maybe not right away but definitely in time. We, as primary-grade teachers, must take advantage
of what these parties have to offer. How do you imagine that improving your own
content knowledge would affect how you teach mathematics? What instructional
practices do middle and high school teachers use that might work in your
Go to those math parties with or without an
invitation! Put on your Robin Hood hat with a feather in it and be a thief of
learning if you must. Don’t wait for something geared toward your grade span to
continue learning more about math. I have been and will continue to be a thief
of the math world. Aside from working to improve my level of content knowledge,
I have stolen many instructional practices from the upper grades, most recently
Fraction Talks. What
the upper-grade teachers may not realize is that the perspective you bring to
both the classroom and to the professional development event is crucial.
I recently attended a professional
development experience offered by Ryan
Andrews, and Chris Perez titled, “Linking
Proportional Relationships to Algebraic Thinking.” Yikes, right?! Initially, I
didn’t plan on attending. For one thing, I didn’t think I was allowed to go,
since it was for middle school teachers. Second, what would I even do there?
Would I remember how to solve those types of problems? Would the middle school
and high school teachers laugh at me? I truly hate to say it, but my own
version of math anxiety could have kept me from going; even though I try
incredibly hard to bury it and leave it in my high school teacher’s precalculus
classroom, where my math career ended. I’m sorry, Jo Boaler; I’m
trying. It is extremely powerful to make peace with the fact that we don’t know
all there is to know about math or teaching and learning. In fact, I think many
would agree that it’s admirable.
In short, we ended up having teachers from
all grades at the professional development session. The crucial benefit that
surfaced for all of us was how much learning the progressions helped us
understand math. When we learn about how a concept develops over time, we are
learning more about the nature of math itself. Think
about how you view the math you are going to teach your kids. Do you focus on
what it is you want students to do or understand? Both? How do those two
differ? Where does the balance lie? How does one idea in mathematics connect to
another? Over the last few years, I have attended a lot of math professional development sessions, and trust me when
I say that the times when I steal ideas from upper-grade sessions, I learn and grow,
and so do my students.
We need to come to these workshops with the
mindset of a thief. Consider stealing ideas like the following:
more can I learn about math, and how will that affect how I teach my students?
instructional practices do the very best middle and high school teachers use?
there a way I can tweak those practices and use them in my classroom while
keeping them developmentally appropriate?
After you have acted as a thief, you will find
a time to repay the favor. Remember that Robin Hood hat you put on? Robin Hood
stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Now it’s your turn. Ask yourself, How
can I share what I am learning with other primary teachers? What do I bring to
the table? What can I do to help support middle and high school teachers? The
answer to these questions may shock you.
Please add your thoughts to the comments or
connect via twitter.
Jamie Duncan has served as a classroom teacher for
fifteen years. She is a master learning facilitator in her classroom engaging
all students in the Standards for Mathematical Practice through 3-Act Tasks,
facilitating meaningful discourse, Number Talks, and building procedural
fluency from a foundation of conceptual understanding. Jamie is a contributor
to math educators around the nation through the Math Twitter Blogosphere
(MTBoS). She writes at www.elementarymathaddict.com, where she shares her learning journey and works together with teachers
from across the globe. Her passion for meaningful learning has led her to
present for her school district, the California Math Council–South, and NCTM’s Annual
Conference. She is interested in learning more about student thinking and how
that grows to mathematical fluency.