Transforming the Culture of Math
By Jancey Clark, posted October 9, 2017
not a math person.”
How many of us have heard this phrase before? From our students? From parents? From
fellow teachers and colleagues? To be honest, until recently, I said that
phrase about myself. In college, I was an English major—mostly because I have a
passion for literature but also because it meant that I had to take only one
math class! At that time, I felt the only focus of math was to get the “correct
answer” as quickly as possible, while following a prescribed set of rules and
formulas. Then as a fifth-grade teacher, I was always worried that my students
would find out my little secret: I relied on the teacher’s manual to follow
procedures and to get to the answer quickly. When I became an elementary school
instructional coach, I was terrified to coach teachers in math, and I felt sure
they would realize that I had no mathematical background. Last year, I decided
it was time to face my anxiety and build my confidence. I focused my
professional learning on math, and through conferences, workshops, and reading
professional literature, my mathematical thinking and understanding have been
transformed. I finally understand that math is not only about the answer—it is
so much more than that. Mathematics teaching and learning is about the beauty
of patterns and the power of solutions to solve meaningful problems.
Focus and plan
I know there are many other teachers just
like me who struggle with teaching math because they lack the confidence in
their own mathematical abilities. As I began planning professional learning
opportunities for teachers this year, I wondered, How can I help teachers—
• see that math is much more than just
• understand that there are many ways to get
to the solution of a problem; and
• be brave enough to put down the teacher’s
manual, and create rich mathematical tasks that inspire curiosity and
creativity, promote collaboration, and deepen critical thinking?
I know this professional learning will
require more than a presentation, and it is not something that can be achieved
in one session. It will require a sustained focus throughout the year, giving
teachers the time and tools needed to solve rich mathematical problems,
first-hand. Teachers will need opportunities to work both independently and
collaboratively, in a safe environment where they can share their thinking and
engage in thoughtful discussion. Together, we will transform the culture of
math teaching and learning.
Truthfully, the main reason I chose to be
an English major was because a single question can have many different answers.
An entire class period could be devoted to discussing one line of poetry, and
every student might interpret it differently—and that has always been OK. Now I
see that the same is true of math. An entire class period could be spent
discussing one rich problem, and every student could solve it in a different
way. And that is OK, too.
you transforming the culture of math teaching and learning at your school this
year? Use the comment section
below to share your ideas and plans for transforming
the culture at your school, or join us on Twitter @TCM_at_NCTM use the hashtag
Jancey Clark is an elementary school
teacher and instructional coach, passionate about personalized learning for
both students and teachers. In her current role as Elementary School Learning
Coach at the American International School in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (AIS-R), Jancey
facilitates professional learning through workshops, coaching cycles, and team
planning. As a member of the Near East South Asia (NESA) Council of Overseas
Schools Mathematics Collaborative Core, Jancey helps develop and promote
professional learning opportunities in mathematics for the NESA community. When
she is not learning with colleagues at AIS-R, she enjoys sharing and reflecting
on learning through Twitter (@jancey5) and her blog (EDventures in Coaching).
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Hello, my name is Shayna Engelhardt and I am a senior at Wartburg College. I am studying Secondary Mathematics Education. I truly love the points that you made in this post as I feel that people will say "I'm just not a math person" from one bad experience they had in math or one step that was lost in translation. I also loved how you talked about English and said how you could spend one whole class period discussing one line of poetry. I was wondering, have you ever thought about the connections English and Math have? That line stuck out to me because I have seen in my field experience where a teacher spends a class period discussing a couple lines from a word problem. They did this because word problems typically give you necessary information to try and trick you. This was something that I thought connected with your statement about poetry as a teacher can spend quality time discussing the confusing factors which can in turn help a student be successful in their class.
I was walking through our ES this morning (in K12 independent school) and saw "Chalk Talk" for math class! I was excited to hear the teacher uses Visible Thinking Routines in her work on a regular basis. To see the student thinking? AWESOME. [was hoping to share pictures here, but will do so via Twitter @jancey5 and @TCM_at_NCTM