Looking Back

As this semester comes to an end, it is so difficult to put into words everything that I have learned and experienced throughout these past four months. I have found myself many times trying to do this very thing, and I end up stumbling over my words. It’s just too much. Too much good. There are so many awesome things happening in math education right now, and I am so excited to be a part of it. Last week, I got the opportunity to take part in some workshops hosted by Dan Meyer here in Grand Rapids. If you don’t know who he is, you can check out his website at http://mrmeyer.com. To get a feel for the revolution that’s going on in math education, I would also highly suggest watching his short Ted Talk at https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_meyer_math_curriculum_makeover.

These workshops were so beneficial to me as a future math teacher, and I am so excited that I was invited to be a part of it. Dan is extremely influential right now in the math community, and he has insights into student thinking that are all too often overlooked. One key thing I took away that I will touch on that I thought was so profound was the idea of giving students information only when it is necessary for them to have it. Meaning, rather then giving students vocabulary words, formulas, or concepts at the beginning of a lesson that they have no idea what they’re used for, give them a problem where, through working on it, they reach a point where they need those vocab words/formulas/concepts in order to complete the problem or do it more efficiently.  This way, students see the purpose of these tools, rather than as just something they have to learn or memorize because you’re telling them too. This makes so much sense, yet why is it that the standard teaching method is to start a lesson by giving students all of their vocab words for that day to copy down into their notes? This idea is definitely something I will take away from this experience and implement into my teaching.

When I first decided I wanted to teach math, I had a completely different idea of what doing math was. I was good at math in school, and to me, that meant being able to simplify a nasty algebraic expression and get the right answer every time. It meant being able to do mental math faster than all of my other classmates. I held on to this belief as I entered my Teaching Middle Grades Math class. When the professor started talking about how “doing math” meant hands-on activities and exploring the deeper mathematical concepts, I wanted to laugh and say, “Maybe this isn’t the profession for me.” However, my tough facade slowly faded away as I began to realize that my previous view was horribly, horribly flawed. Sure, I was good with my multiplication tables and I was fast with solving for x, but I had no idea what I was really doing. I didn’t understand where the formulas in geometry came from or how or why they worked, or where pi came from, or why a triangle always has 180 degrees. I didn’t understand any of this. And frankly, I didn’t care. But that’s because I was good at it. What about the students who aren’t? I had to imagine not being good at math and then not understanding what any of this stuff even means. That’s when I began to realize, students deserve a better explanation than what the average classroom today is providing them with. This semester has fully prepared me to do that very thing, and I could not be more thankful to be in such an excellent program.

I truly can’t believe that this semester is over. Although it was the most challenging semester of my life in so many ways, I feel so accomplished and have gained so much. I absolutely loved the classroom I spent these past four months in, and I learned so much about myself as a teacher. Being in the classroom confirmed my preconceived notion that connecting with the students would be my favorite part about teaching. Although it was a very sad day that last Friday in the classroom, I am so excited for the new experiences that are to come this fall in my high school placement. But first, I am ready to enjoy a much needed summer break 🙂

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“Children want the same things we want; to laugh, to be challenged, to be entertained, and delighted.”

Dr. Seuss

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One comment

  1. Hey Kelsie, thanks for sharing your notes from my workshop and, generally, from your first year in the classroom.

    This really rang for me:

    “I didn’t understand where the formulas in geometry came from or how or why they worked, or where pi came from, or why a triangle always has 180 degrees. I didn’t understand any of this. And frankly, I didn’t care. But that’s because I was good at it. What about the students who aren’t?”

    This job takes a lot of empathy – people who aren’t our age, people who aren’t our race, and somewhere near the top of that list, people who don’t like the same subject we do. Tough, fun job.

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