Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Maths; The Way It Should Be

Last night marked the last class of probably the best group of graduate students I have ever had the pleasure of working with. The course, Math and Diversity, focused on teaching maths to children with diverse needs including ELL, Special education, poverty, maths disabilities such as dyscalculia, and working with mathematically talented students. The course focused on developing the students' relational understanding of math as well as a growth mindset. Here's a sample journal from Bria, one of the students in the class that is pretty typical of how all the students in the course saw their growth as math teachers this semester.

 "I am so glad that I took this class. My mathematics confidence has skyrocketed as a result of this semester. I used to be told that I was good at math, but I didn’t believe it because I was grouped with people who were notably good at math and did not compare to them. I was one of the weaker links in Mathletes, for example, and I felt that I struggled in my college calculus class. I know that I will never be as strong in math as many others, at least as long as it is not my academic or professional focus. But what I am learning is that I am better at mental calculations and quick consolidation of numerical information than many other people I come across in my everyday life. I was able to comprehend and work with new concepts presented in this class fairly quickly, and enjoyed being able to experiment with my new knowledge. By gaining conceptual understandings of things I had learned procedurally growing up, I am able to approach new math problems that come to me in life more thoughtfully, and I understand those thought processes. My new hobby is doing mental calculations of various operations and then analyzing exactly how I came to my answer. Feeling in control of math is a fairly new feeling, and I love it. It makes me more confident in my mathematics skills, and makes me more comfortable when I find myself out of control of math.
In the past I have not been able to be comfortable with accepting that something was challenging for me; I would admit defeat at the first sign of struggle. I understand that this is a common ailment of the person who has spent their childhood floating through academic requirements and being told that they are smart. But through the education I am receiving in the graduate program at Saint Michael’s, I am finally learning to practice what I preach. I am learning that finding something challenging does not put a blemish on my intelligence, and asking for help does not signify weakness or make the person asked think I am less intelligent than they are. I believe these things wholeheartedly when they come out of my mouth as a teacher, but I continue to struggle with it personally because I always prided myself on being “smart” growing up and worried that people would find me less so if I asked for help. But during the second half of this course, when a concept or problem presented in class was challenging I began to actually feel alright about admitting it and getting help from a neighbor, rather than chastising myself for not understanding something as quickly as my classmates. I think that the confidence I built from taking this class has allowed me to get over any math-related anxiety I used to feel, such that I now know I am “good at math.” I understand that people were not lying when they told me this in the past. With this newfound knowledge, I am comfortable with struggling. Finding math concepts that are difficult for me are not something to avoid, but something to tackle head-on. It’s fun now, and I have this class to thank for it."

Another student in the course felt that, as a child,  she was "a conceptual person trapped in a procedural world". I will miss teaching this course. 

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