An Ode to Elementary Teachers

“The problem is that most of the middle school teachers don’t have a specialty in math.”

When I heard that statement, I knew it bothered me.  But at the time, I was unable to articulate exactly why.  There are a lot of problems with education, many more with math specifically.  But I know that pointing the finger squarely at the grades below is both unproductive and damaging.  Not only that, but when we are convince ourselves that groups of teachers lack certain “necessary” content knowledge, we close our minds to anything else they can teach us.

I’ve had a busy couple of weeks at AFT Thinking Mathematics training for 9 days and then straight on to Twitter Math Camp for another 5.  Both of those experiences will change my teaching for the better, and I found a common theme throughout:  Listen to what elementary and middle school teachers can teach you about mathematics pedagogy.

We talk about connecting representations of mathematics like graphs, tables, and equations.  But how often do we connect what kids do in elementary grades to what they experience in high school?  We lament in high school about kids lacking number sense, but how do our classroom routines support and build on the number sense kids have created through the primary grades?

Notice the similarities between the Ten Principles of Thinking Mathematics and the NCTM Math Teaching Practices:


Credit: AFT


Credit: NCTM

I know those are dense, but they are the foundation of what we need to do in order to improve mathematics education.  Every shift we make needs to be based in these principles/practices.  And the ideas need to connect from counting to arithmetic to algebra to calculus and all the places in between.  We can no longer be complacent in teaching as we were taught.  Doing so means committing negligence toward a generation of students who need a deeper understanding of mathematics in order to use it successfully in the world they create.

Tracy Zager brought it all home for me with her keynote at Twitter Math Camp.  Here is her blog post with the link to the slides and the video.  I heard the same things the research had been telling me over and over in Baltimore:  We need to listen to each other.  There isn’t a hierarchy of teaching from elementary through post-secondary.  The conversations between vertical groups of teachers are important – even necessary – to helping our students develop as mathematicians.

Here are some pictures from the AFT Thinking Mathematics Training (credit:  AFT)

0722162104-1.jpg0722162104a-1.jpg0722162105-1.jpg0722162107-1.jpgDay 5 - Diamond Dot Pattern ExamplesDay 5 - Pool BorderDay 5 - Seeing Dots

Tough Cartoon Conversations

My sweet little angel came back from grandma and grandpa’s house proclaiming her love for Powerpuff girls. In the last 6 years I’ve watched my share of mind-numbing cartoons, most with female characters that make me want to shove a pencil in my eye and swirl it around in my brain.  Powerpuff girls has 3 female superheros, so I thought, what could be so bad?

In case you aren’t familiar, here is a classic depiction of the three little world-saving wonders:

Credit:  Cartoon Network

Credit: Cartoon Network

Notice anything? …   I’ll give you a moment.

I try to run all of the media Maria is exposed to through the same scrutiny:  Does it include a diversity of characters, including diversity of race and family structure? How are the female characters depicted?  I’d like to say I’m looking for shows with a good message, but to be honest, I’m content with something that isn’t psychologically damaging at this point.

Hopefully you were as uncomfortable by the lack of diversity in the trio of pro-feminist ass-kickers as I was.  And if you don’t think that matters, consider this conversation I had with my daughter recently.

Me:  Maria, is it important to have all kinds of superheros?

M:  yes.

Me:  Boy superheros and girl superheros?

M:  Of course, mommy.

Me:  What about superheros with dark skin and superheros with light skin?

M:  No.  Superheros should only have light skin.

This stopped me in my tracks.  But I can’t fix it unless I’m willing to own my part in it.  I’ve worked very hard to make sure Maria is exposed to a variety of races, religions, sexual orientations, and family structures.  But the world the media has built for her is one in which superheros are white.  It’s my responsibility to disrupt this.   I’ve got much more work to do.