Friday, August 2, 2019

I'm not good at math

#MTBoSBlaugust  #ITeachMath  #MTBoS

I love reading the blogs in August!  Even though I retired a few years ago, I still love hearing about the start of school, looking at the classroom décor ideas, reading about the planning, the longing for students to excel.

And so you ask, why am I blogging?

Well, I am not in the classroom and haven’t been in while, but I have been tutoring.  I’d like to share a few observations from that perspective.  Maybe they will be meaningful to someone, resonate, affirm, or inspire.  My goal is to blog the five Fridays in August, sharing my observations! 

I recently picked up a new student.  She’s a middle schooler.  The first thing her mom told me about her … and the student confirmed was that she was not good in math.  I looked quizzically I’m sure … and asked, “Why do you say that?  Tell me a little about your math history.”
And here are the few facts I’ve gathered from the student’s perspective:

1)   I don’t know my math facts so I’m not good at math.
2)   I still use my fingers to count to figure out basic multiplication.
3)   I was in an advanced math program in elementary school.

From the mom’s perspective:
1)   My daughter experiences a lot of anxiety.
2)   She doesn’t know her math facts.
3)   She struggles with math.
4)   Her work since elementary school has been hit or miss because she has changed schools more than once.

In our first few sessions I noticed that the student did indeed use her fingers to count by a number to multiply.  But I also noticed how she decomposed and composed numbers to compute efficiently.  I also noticed that she seemed to choose to do so over using a calculator as if she found some satisfaction in the computation in her head.  I also discovered that she has tidbits of knowledge in advanced topics – trig, radicals, and such – but little depth of understanding in those.  She loves math puzzles, and takes delight in learning new things. 

On our third visit I said to her, “I don’t want to hear you say you are bad at math anymore.  That’s just not true.  I’m not sure how you got that impression, but I see that you have math talent.  Math is so much more than knowing your math facts with a certain efficiency.”   It was her turn to look at bit puzzled, and to comment, “No one has ever said to me that I was good at math.”

I was hired in the summer to help the student with geometry.  She had been told that in the upcoming year geometry would be a focus, and the mom and daughter realized she hadn’t had much instruction in the way of geometry.  They gave me a workbook that had been suggested to them.  After the first week of choosing a few workbook pages, I suggested we build a reference notebook together.  I chose a sequence of introductory geometry topics, found foldables to use with them, and discovered that my new student loves foldables!  She took great delight in working and building her notebook.

Her school this year started in July – on a modified year-round schedule.  It is a tiny independent school that creates its own math curriculum.  In the first week she had a packet on “work” problems, yes, two people painting a room or two pipes filling a tank.  I was a little taken aback – it seemed the topic had been selected randomly.

I’ve asked mom for permission to contact the student’s teacher.  I’d like to know more about how curriculum decisions are made.  This young lady will enter high school next year.  It’s my personal mission to be sure she is ready for a high school sequence of math – finding and filling gaps, offering enrichment and joy in math, and building her self-esteem. 

I’ll be searching YOUR blogs and following you on Twitter for all the good ideas!

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