A lot has been said in the States about Common Core and the confusing math concepts being presented. I have many problems with Common Core, even though I teach in a state that does not use it. The impact is felt whether we participate or not. That said, I actually like parts of the math program, the same program that has made the rounds in social media as being inappropriate for children. I’ll explain why.
In the past few years I’ve been influenced by bloggers like Magical Maths, Ian Byrd from byrdseed.com and Dan Meyer from his presentation on Tedtalks can be watched below;
Magical Maths keeps challenging problems and ideas on the forefront, and I find myself using many of his math problems as either warm ups or problems of the week for my 3rd-5th grade students. Mr. Byrd challenges my thinking in using real world data and finding conflict in math that can be presented to students to help them problem solve. Mr. Meyer’s talk helped me see that the way I have been teaching math has been boring, and is only working to present students with steps to follow, instead of involving them in the act of setting up a problem then solving it. In both cases, I gained knowledge in how to present math information to my students in ways that are more engaging (An ounce of perplexity is worth a pound of engagement – Dan Meyer) and encourage problem solving and critical thinking. Fast forward two years, and I discovered a free Stanford course through iTunesU by Jo Boaler called “How to Teach Maths.” When I heard Mr. Meyer was a student of Ms. Boaler’s, I decided to take the course.
One of the “take aways” for me when reflecting on this course was the idea of fixed and growth mindset in the math classroom. Students can have a fixed mindset about math. They can think they are bad at math and be afraid to try, or in the case with many of my students they can think they are good at math because they are good at memorizing math facts, but then find they are not so good at problem solving in later grades and give up because math has become challenging. Or, students can have a growth mindset. They learn from their mistakes and enjoy seeing the successes of others. They enjoy the challenge of problem solving.
Teachers can have fixed and growth mindsets as well. We can think that we are bad at math and avoid teaching to our best abilities. Or, we can grow and learn better ways to present material, and learn how to engage our students and encourage them to think more critically. We can think that some of our students will never be good at math, or that a student’s intelligence is set and there is no way they will improve in the way we need them to.
Students and teachers have more standards and expectations on them than ever before. It’s important that we learn to work smarter, not harder. I encourage anyone to research growth mindset, or find the thing that gets you excited about math. Our students deserve it, and truth be told it makes our jobs much easier!