This summer (and into the fall), I'm taking a professional development math course. Right now, I'm half way through it (very strange schedule with huge chunks of time between classes). The course focuses on us doing math and really understanding the math we are teaching. They've shown us so many alternate strategies (other than standard algorithms) that I'm excited to try out with students. There's just a little bit of pedagogical discussion. The instructors keep telling us that it is our job to reflect on what we do in class at home to see how it applies in our classroom. I'm going to share that reflection with you.
This class has really gotten me thinking about how I was as a math student. Math was always very very easy for me. I didn't really have to work at math until I got to calculus (I know, half of you now hate me, sorry!). But ... I never really loved math. Even though it was my strongest subject, I never once considered majoring in it in college. Sure, there were little pieces that I enjoyed, but overall it was just motions I went through.
During this professional development, I've really enjoyed some of the math problems we've been presented with. Other times, it's still just going through those motions, finishing quickly, and waiting for everyone else to finish. During that waiting time, I started thinking about the difference between the problems I'm excited about and those I'm not. I realized that I'm excited for the ones that challenge me. They are usually ones that can be solved more than one way or that I can extend the problem in some way because the contexts are so real. Other times, they are just so challenging that I feel proud for finishing them. Looking back on my school experiences with math, it was the same types of problems and activities that I enjoyed.
I've realized that I am not teaching math in the way that would excite me as a student. The most boring parts of this math professional development are the times that most resemble the majority of my math instruction. This realization has added "re-think how I structure math" to my summer to-do list and given it a high priority. I need to organize my math instruction so that students get the chance to solve problems that they will be interested in and that will make them feel proud for being able to do more often. I need to get them more involved.
I can't plan specific lessons yet because I don't know which parts of our math curriculum I will be covering this year. We have students rotate through the four 4th grade teachers, so each teacher only teaches part of the curriculum. This gives students the chance to work with different teachers and lets us really focus in on one area and get really good at teaching it. We will decide at the beginning of the year who is teaching what. Over this summer, though, I really want to focus on the organization and routines of my math time.
How do you get students excited for and interested in math?