I Wasn't A Great Math Student

I wasn't a great math student in school. In fact, to say I was a "good" math student after maybe 5th grade would be generous. In the beginning of middle school we had to take a test. The test would determine whether we would be on the "regular" math track or the accelerated course of study for the remainder of our school years. ONE TEST. I took the test and was borderline. They had me take the test again. I was still borderline. They held me back... to be safe.

You see, the problem was that I never understood the math that we were learning and while I do have quite a bit of grit and perseverance, grit doesn't matter when math is just about memorizing rules. And I never was great at memorization. All of the grit in the world doesn't matter when you are faced with 5.25 x 10 and you know that you either have to move the decimal right... or left? And is it one spot because there is one zero or two because ten has two digits?? 

And so, I struggled. Math rule, after math rule, after math rule was piled on high. As soon as the math regents (the NYS HS test you need to take to get your diploma) was over I quit the traditional sequence of math courses. I got out of my "regular" track and went in a completely different direction taking an AP Statistics course. I LOVED it! You see, in statistics, we erased years and years of math rules and talked about what we wanted to know from numbers and what types of math we could apply to learn those things. We stopped talking about RULES and started THINKING about numbers.

Fast forward a few years past college and into my first few years of teaching math. When the Common Core math standards came out there was so much talk about teaching why and how math works. Reading through the standards from first through fifth grade it became so apparent to me that if I could help students to master these standards, they would be better equipped than I had ever been as a student. We would teach them why and how and the challenge for students would then move away from a challenge of memorization to a challenge of persevering through problems requiring them to apply their knowledge.

And so I looked to research based strategies. I went to a number of PD sessions and read a number of texts and, so often, I could see the value in the high level research based "conversations" that I was supposed to be having with my students but, day to day, there was no great guide on how to make "Research Based" REAL for the classroom. How to take these highly theoretical ideas and to make them work in a day to day math setting. How to use this research to make SMART instructional decisions. How to use this research to DIFFERENTIATE... really differentiate in a meaningful way! How to incorporate this research when creating assessments and when planning remediation.

And that, my friends, is where The Math Spot came in. It is my mission through this blog to make "research based" real, manageable, and attainable for every elementary teacher. Even on top of the 2,000 other tasks you need to complete in a day :) Because if you know why and how students learn math you can help them understand why and how math works.

And then, 15 years from now, our students won't be writing a blog post about how they weren't a great math student.

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2 comments

  1. I had a very similar math experience in middle and high school. Thankfully I had a great math methods professor who used a Marilyn Burns book as our textbook and I was hooked. I was learning math in a different way as I learned how to teach elementary math. It really was life changing. I always share my story with my intervention students so that they know that they too can reach high levels in math with some grit and perseverance.

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  2. The way you end your article is wonderful. Yes we don't want kids to have trouble with math. We do a lot of math talk at home. Talking numbers and seeing patterns. It does not make our kids mathematicians, but it does make them comfortable with math. As they grew older they also played math games on sites like these http://www.jumpstart.com/parents/games/math-games. My wife's parents also did a lot of number work with them while taking them on short treks. I don't know if problems will crop up in the next few years, but until now they seem to be comfortable in school math and we are hoping it continues that way. Thanks!

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