I am a child of Old Math. I am surrounded by people who “turned out okay.” They know how to carry the one and what the term goes into means. I grew up during a time where Math was told to us; it was not taught. I made it all the way through school with lackluster numeracy skills and limited problem-solving strategies. I was one of those students who thoroughly believed and sadly accepted I was not "good" at Math. In fact, I believed I was too dumb to understand what my friends seemed to grasp all too easily. So, long story, short…I did not apply to college. It took me years to have the courage to apply; to believe I might be smart enough to attend.
It was not until I was 24 years old that I found Math. It was in a required remedial Math group as a college freshman where I learned to persevere and to create models to help me better understand abstract concepts. I learned to watch for patterns and defend my answers. I learned that Math had a predictable structure and that I was capable of understanding it all. It took until I was 24 years old to enjoy Math and to realize that I possessed the skills to make me “good” at it, too!
Fast forward to my own classroom…where I was now responsible for instilling Math magic into eight- and nine-year-old children. I was not about to let them leave thinking they didn’t “get” Math. I was not going to let them down! With strategies and support, I believe mathematical concepts are accessible to everyone. I needed my students to see themselves as capable mathematicians; a tall order because expectations for students are high! I turned to the Common Core Mathematical Practice Standards as a basis for teaching my students universal Math strategies.
Obviously, just reading the poster to my kids was inadequate. Students need to experience these strategies and to see how they fit together. To this end, I designed a set of Touchstone Lessons, each one featuring a different Mathematical Practice Standard. The lessons were engaging, hands-on, fun, and memorable. They brought the standards to life. Students were able to think back on them throughout the year when I asked them to remember and apply a strategy.
Here are a few examples from the lessons I developed. I have since used these in professional development sessions for teachers as they deepen their understanding of the standards and search for ways to support their students:
As the lessons went on, students were beginning to recognize instances when they were using the practice standards in their own problem solving. They turned to the standards when they were stuck. They shared strategies with peers using the language of the standards. For many of my students, the Mathematical Practice Standards allowed them to access content from a new perspective to meet their goals.
The Common Core often gets a bad rap, but I can say these rigorous goals and strategies have strengthened both my teaching and my students’ learning. Day by day, we are all living a growth mindset and learning, as I did, that With Math I Can!
What are some strategies that you are employing in your classroom to ensure students all have access to the rigorous goals set forth in your standards? If you are finding unique ways that help students understand and enjoy Math, be sure to share them!
Visit With Math I Can to take the pledge to approach math with a growth mindset and access 100% free growth mindset resources to support students.
After 10 years as an elementary teacher, Suzy Brooks is now the Director of Instructional Technology for Mashpee Public Schools in Massachusetts. Her work in blended learning, student engagement, and social media has been featured by EdWeek, NBC News’ Education Nation, Instructor Magazine, Intel, ASCD, and the NEA. Currently, she is the President-Elect for the Massachusetts affiliate of ASCD. Connect with her on Twitter at @SimplySuzy or at her website www.TechnicallyInvisible.com.