Ok, being completely honest, raise your hand if you freak out just a little when given a little more complex math problem..... nobody? Just me? Liars.... and I even teach the subject!
This summer I had the privilege of going to a professional development (PD) that helped us look at teaching math in a different way as well gave us an overview of the the Gear Up program.
Being honest, when I sat at the table the first day and we talked about theories and teaching styles and class room management I was good. Okay well maybe frustrated because we can't measure problem solving skills and life situational skills on a standardized test like the ACT but that is a whole different conversation, but I enjoyed those discussions. I felt comfortable and felt like I could contribute.
Then in the afternoon, the math problem came out.....and I kind of wanted to puke. My stomach started churning and I started breaking down and "I can't do this" just like most of my kids do. That initial reaction that we have been conditioned to give is one of FEAR - which I was taught long ago is just False Evidence Appearing Real. And besides what was I afraid of? Failing? I can't fail a training. But it doesn't change the fact that the condition response is the same (thanks Pavlov).
So I tried to really pretend that I was a kid in my classroom and think about what I would tell them to do. I would first ask them where their notes where (Ha! Jokes on my I didn't have notes because I was at a training where I should know how to do everything!), and then I would challenge them to break the problem apart into pieces that they did know.
After a couple of minutes, the sweating calmed down and my stomach stopped churning and my anxiety eased - I knew how to do this! We did a whole section on it last year and it was one of my favorite sections! Why was I freaking out?
But that my friends is exactly what 99% of my kids do every day in class, except they give up before even starting. They don't think thru problem solving skills to solve in different ways and that is an essential skill that they need in life! Every issue or problem that we have in life does not have the exact same steps to resolution as the previous one - they have to be able to think outside the box!
This was outside of the box and problem solving thinking was conceptualized a little better for me one evening when I went to move some stuff into my classroom after a day of training. As you see below, I had a laundry basket (which was loaded down with reams of paper, and I mean heavy reams) and an organizer that I need to carry up stairs to my classroom......and it was about to rain. So I needed to quickly get these inside and upstairs without breaking my back. I looked for a cart to no avail and thought "what am I going to do?"
Then I saw the trash can! Some quick questimation told me that the laundry basket would fit across the top with out failing in and viola! I had a cart and I can take it up the elevator! Once I did this I thought? I wonder how many of my kids would have just carried these items upstairs, making several trips, instead of figuring out a more effective and efficient solution? There was no step by step process to tell me when you don't have a cart, look and try these other solutions. No it was outside the box and critical thinking skills that are super necessary but hard to quantify that we need to me teaching in the classroom!
This past Thursday a student sat beside me working on a quiz as I led the rest of the class through adding notes to our interactive notebook (INB). This was all done through the ELMO (which for those of you who don't know what that is - don't worry I didn't either until I got back into education - it's a fancy technologically advanced overhead projector :) ), so the kids were following me step-by-step as we created our notes.
Well my good friend taking his test noticed that I was following someone else step-by-step on my computer and asked "Mrs. Snell, are you cheating?"
Below is a picture of Math = Love's blog post on exponents that I was working from!
My response was "Nope, I'm using my resources wisely!" and he seemed content with that. You see I have on my white board a place called "Resource Bank" and underneath of the heading are a list of resources that I encourage the kids to use when they encounter a problem that they don't know how to solve. One of the things that I want my kids to do is struggle a little (don't take that in a mean, sadistic way) and learn ways to find the answer to their problems other than the obvious answer of the teacher. Some of our resources include their notes, their bellwork problems, their homework, their partners, our website, their parents, Google, Khan Academy, etc. Of course they can not use these resources at every problem, like on a test, but some of them they can use on a test like their brain dumps.
Brain dumps are the tips, formulas, ets. that we try to review before a test, or even homework, and what I encourage them to write down at the top of their papers once they've received the test. This is a skill I'm encouraging them to use now and later on ACT, Compass, etc. to be successful!
There is a trend referenced in Psychology Today, read about it here, that colleges are seeing a decline in student resilience. Absolutely they are, I see it every day in the classroom. You'd think I am a four-eyed fire-breathing mean monster when I won't answer a kids question right away but instead ask them to see what their notes say or maybe the bellower problems we just went over. It's become some much like a broken record in my class, I believe it's actually starting to sink in. "Mrs. Snell, how do I.....?" "What do your notes say?" "ahhhhhhhh, uggghhh, grrhhhhhhh!" but they grudgingly get them out or ask a partner.
Most of these kids don't know how to struggle, seek and find answers. This leads to less resilience and a fear of failure because they don't know how to use their resources. As a new teacher I could have quickly let this overcome me. I didn't have years worth of knowledge and resources to pull from but instead of wallowing in that struggle and throwing up my hands in defeat, I have learned to use my resources to seek and find answers. I've found some amazing online resources such as Khan Academy,
TenMarks, ThatQuiz, blogs such as Sarah Hagan's Math = Love, Pinterest boards, and many, many more.
And I'm learning and perfecting as I go. So I will continue to use my resources wisely and teach my kids the skills to do the same!
Did you ever hear about the Isle of Misfit Toys? If I remember correctly it was were all the broken toys went since they weren't perfect like all the other toys that Santa had. Eventually Rudolph and friends convinced Santa to take the toys to happy homes where they are all wanted.
Well I some what feel like many times some of the kids that come through my doors might be like those toys that ended up on the Isle of Misfits - just not perfect in everyone else's eyes. Maybe they don't know how to read, and I mean they really don't (some read at a 3rd grade level as freshman) but the compensate by smiling and working hard and cover it up real well. Or maybe they can't compute basic math problems - several of my kids need calculators to compute 9-3.
How did they make it this far? Don't know, don't care - at this point I'm tired of people worrying about who is to blame. Just fix it. Our babies deserve better than this. Many of these kids and I started out rough for the first part of the year. I've had my fair share cuss me out, I've been called a name or two, I've written several up for it....but with almost all of them we now have a very different relationship.
I won't forget one day, at the beginning of last semester I had two boys in one class continuing to goof off and do nothing. Not only do nothing but disrupt the rest of class and after repeatedly calling them down I wrote them up. After that they were a little better but I noticed them passing notes a few days later. When I walked over to see what was going, one wadded up the note and stuck it in his mouth, then took it out and threw it away, convinced I wouldn't touch it then. Well, I didn't in front of them. But after class, I went to the trash and found the note and pulled it out. Now, you might be thinking "EEEEWWWWW!" And trust me I did too but I was really struggling with these two and I believe you can't fix something if you don't know what's wrong so I was just looking for some clue for what to do with them.
When I unfolded the note and read it, I almost cried. I expected some really mean and nasty things about me and my appearance or whatever. Instead the note read something like "how can she expect us to learn anything when she doesn't know how to teach". And I remember thinking, your right I don't know how to teach, I'm learning myself everyday but what I'm doing with you isn't working at all. Since then, I've tried a different approach with those boys - less authoritative and more caring. They know I will still right them up if needed (I've told the kids while I love my babies at home, I also love them enough to punish them when they disobey and I will do the same with my class kids!) but this relationship is working so much better for me and them. I've gotten to learn a little more about them and what makes them tick and I can generally get them to work for me.
Today one of the kids, after a particularly hilarious start to class, asked me "Mrs. Snell do you like me being in your class?" To which I replied "Absolutley!" And he asked "Are you sure? I mean seriously?" And from the bottom of my heart the only answer I had was yes because he is one of my Misfits. And while we all may not be perfect in every way, I am loving every moment that God has given me to help these perceived Misfits to reach all the potential that is there for them to succeed!