I think we can all agree…

In a recent conversation with a group of math teachers, one colleague began a statement about the role of math teachers with this: “I think we can all agree…”

One problem… we did not all agree. “Actually…” I began my reply.

His statement was something like this: “…our primary role/responsibility is to make math easier for students by efficiently providing them with clear and concise explanations.”

There was a time in my career when I might have agreed with him. In fact, I probably spent the first ten years of my career striving to get better at exactly that. And, over time, my explanations did get better. I took pride in my ability to deliver content in bite-sized easy to digest pieces. This ability defined me as a teacher.

Simultaneously, I was growing more uncomfortable with this. I felt like I was teaching punctuation when, really, I wanted to be teaching literature. If I wanted my students to think mathematically, persevere in solving problems, appreciate mathematics, etc. my belief about my role had to change. In short, I had to “be less helpful.” I had to let go of what I had worked so hard to accomplish.

Back to that conversation at the school… here we were discussing the effectiveness of a particular problem-based lesson while holding opposing beliefs about what it means to teach.

“FOSSILS!” –Lewis Black

Lately, I’ve been thinking  about ways to bring forward these beliefs. I created an activity and tried it out over the last two days with two groups of math team mentors and administrators. The gist of it:

  1. Place each belief statement where you think it belongs on the truthiness continuum.
  2. If necessary, rewrite each statement so that it can be placed on the far right.

Teachers enjoyed the activity and I enjoyed eavesdropping on some thoughtful conversations. Each belief statement was inspired by actual comments that I have heard in the last two years. For what it’s worth, two of the statements (I won’t tell you which two) were taken directly from the WNCP Mathematics K-7 Integrated Resource Package and educators placed these statements, unedited, on the far right.

Below are some examples of how teachers rewrote statements so that they felt right– from the gut.

There are three types of people: mathy people and non-mathy people.
All students are capable of learning mathematics. Mathematical thinkers are created, not born.

(Okay, I served up a softball.)

The most effective way to have students learn basic facts is by building brain muscle memory through timed drills and lots of practice.
The LEAST effective way to have students learn basic facts is by building brain muscle memory through timed drills and lots of practice.

Ha! BTW, other groups focused on the importance of having flexible strategies.

And check this out:

The primary role/responsibility of the teacher is to make the learning of mathematics easier for students by efficiently providing clear and concise explanations.
The primary role/responsibility of the teacher is to provide opportunities for students themselves to make sense of mathematics, to scaffold when necessary, and to help students make connections to the big ideas. 

Of course, it’s not enough to believe. There’s also the challenge of putting these beliefs into practice. But that, I think we can all agree, is a different conversation.

Update: Truthiness Cards for Secondary Teachers

2 Replies to “I think we can all agree…”

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