I am squirming, back-to-work-Monday, the first of the year smirking around the corner. Let’s face it, even teachers who love teaching have to oil their gears after three weeks of fa la la.
So I find myself clicking through my past philosophical musings trying to remind myself why, exactly, I chose this profession until I stumble on an apropos reminder, “The comfort of routine, once established, will set roots deep into soil, establishing a framework for the tree to grow strong. When a routine rhythm is established from an early age, the student will value the work of exploring…” That’s the one!
To value the work of exploring, now there’s a worthy goal.
Math is a subject where consistency is a must. Fine-tuning a math routine is fingernails on chalkboard, a nearly archaic metaphor to be sure. Seeing as chalkboards have gone the way of record players, here’s an opportunity for a few seconds of Youtube diversion:
Okay, back to math. Math is a keystone subject that presents bumpy stretches of road along the way. Challenging our students to do their math consistently will give them the ability to be successful.
But what else can be acquired on the journey?
I learned a long time ago that, like all subjects to be tackled, a systematic approach to math will not only enable students to strengthen their math skills but will allow them to experience the discipline of working through a process to accomplish a task, and this, this, my friends is more valuable than the actual subject being tackled. "Process" after all, is the key to writing, literary analysis, visual art, music, and historical research. The list goes on and on and on.
What do I want to see in the classroom this year?
Students totally immersed in their learning, students discovering their individual efficacy.
And so I nod to myself, yes, that’s why I venture into unfamiliar territory, that’s why I take a whole-brain approach to solving problems, yes, whole-brain even when it comes to math problems.
Numbers and number relations, fractions, patterns and functions, data analysis, probability, algebra, no matter the strand, my goal is to help my students to move from simply completing a math lesson or math exam with exceptional accuracy to something much more.
Each of my students are plugged into a traditional math textbook and set on an individualized journey. I currently utilize Teaching Textbooks or Saxon depending on the individual needs of the student because of the exceptional didactic element that, if utilized over time, provides a potential for students to own their study of math. Beyond that, I am bent on incorporating concrete instructional materials that allow my students to delve into an exploration of critical and creative thinking. Students who engage in concrete learning are better able to apply what they’ve learned in real life situations. Fact of the matter is that students who use concrete materials develop more precise and more comprehensive mental representations—especially math students. Often times that these students are more motivated because experience with concrete materials have enabled them to develop longer attention spans. The benefits are endless.
Learning that moves through stages is learning that sticks. Students should begin in the Concrete or “doing” stage of learning because it enables new ideas to connect with familiar ideas. Building conceptual understanding of this nature supports retention, prevents common errors, and allows students to make larger critical and creative connections. From here students will move with ease to the Representational or “seeing” stage of learning, transforming the concrete into visual representations or pictograms. Moving through these first two stages often eliminates “holes” in mathematical understanding and allows students to confidently reach into the Abstract or “symbolic” stage of learning. Once arrived, the capacity for logic, for reflection, has blossomed to the point that the student begins to believe in the diligence that makes them hungry for more.
I have been striving for years to perfect my vision of a “Math Lab” upon which to found the math textbook. Funny, this year the goal is creeping to the top of my list.
Passionate learning, of course!
Here’s to more of that in 2011.