Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Spectrum of Relationships with Math

Our school had our annual "Curriculum Night" tonight. The parents followed their kids' schedules to come meet teachers, each for 10 minutes at a time for "class." 10 minutes isn't really enough to do an activity, but it was enough time to convey what I think is the most important about my approach to the class. It was my first time doing something like this, and what I chose to do was...

I started with asking the parents to stand along a spectrum on the floor, to indicate whether they LOVE and use math all the time at their jobs, or whether they feel nervous when they encounter math. Somewhere in between would be if they can try to help sometimes with their kid's math homework, but they need to first look at the textbook for a little while.

After this short little exercise, I asked the parents to sit, and I said that the reason I wanted to start with this is that all of these parents are fairly successful adults, and yet they all have different levels of affinity to math. So, as a teacher I try to keep in mind that it is only natural that kids in my class are also part of this spectrum, spanning from those kids who love abstraction and are ready to think 10 examples ahead, to those kids who need a lot of assurance everytime we progress into something unfamiliar. So, I have to plan lessons that can address all parts of the spectrum.

I spoke then a little bit about my techniques for differentiation. I said that many kids who are not so mathematically comfortable, are more comfortable with words. So, often times just asking them to write about math can help them to break it down into smaller parts, to help them understand and process each part. I also said that some kids are really comfortable with technology. So, allowing them to experiment first on a graphing calculator and to pull out numbers or observe patterns on the calculator can help them ease the transition into abstract concepts. Then some more kids are intuitive about the world, and they learn best when you anchor the theories to something very concrete that they already understand. This is why we do projects. In each class, I gave an example of a project that either we did recently (ie. bungee jumping regression project in Algebra 2), or one that is coming up soon (ie. video motion analysis via Logger Pro in Precalc), or one that will come about a little bit later in the year (ie. 3-d ceramic vase modeling in Calculus). All of these projects are ways for me to reach those kids who learn concretely, and they help to make the abstract topics more accessible to the kids. On the other end of the spectrum, for the kids who are always aching to move ahead, I always try to give them a little nudge towards what is to come, to help them anticipate the development in their mind before the entire class discusses and develops that concept. That helps this type of learner to stay challenged, because they tend to enjoy figuring things out on their own and then teaching their peers.

I then showed the parents a short sample of a piece of writing recently produced by one of my Precalc kids as his final draft to the triangular numbers and stellar numbers project. I walked them through my reasoning for writing in math -- discussing how even researchers in academia need the ability to write/communicate clearly, on the level of people much less specialized than them, in order to get funding and to get published for their discoveries. I also mentioned the importance of emphasis on testing formulas, and drew a parallel to the scientific process. The parents were just amazed when looking at the level of work and the clarity that the kid was writing with! Several parents came up to me afterwards to express their gratitude that their kids have to write so extensively in my class. I was honestly so floored by their warm enthusiasm!!

It was one of the best experiences I've ever had in meeting so many parents at once. I think the approach of starting parents off in a simple move-around activity (standing along a spectrum) helped to really engage them and helped them to consider not just their own child in my class, but also the other children who have diverse needs in the same class. We're a learning community, and I hope that I was able to convey that in my 10 minutes with each group of parents!

Although it has been a rough teaching week, tonight was truly a highlight for me to get such positive feedback from my students' parents!


  1. Thank you!! I do my best. Some kids get my style right away. Other kids can take a little while to warm up to it. Sometimes the kids who give me the hardest time come back in future years to say thanks!!