“Math needs better marketing” – Neil deGrasse Tyson
Today is the last day of summer. Tomorrow, a week of district PD begins in my district, followed by the first day of school just after labor day. It’s a great time to reflect upon a summer of learning and how I will use what I have learned to improve my instructional practice. Upon reflection, I have reached one scary conclusion.
I am the problem with math education.
It’s not that I am a bad teacher (I hope not anyway….). My students do well, I work to improve myself professionally, and I try my best to share what I know with colleagues. But what happens inside the classroom walls just isn’t enough anymore.
Recently, I was driving with my sister, and the conversation turned towards school and how my niece and nephew were doing. The topic of math was certain to come up, in particular how math “looks” differently now in some ways than how we were taught. It was then that my sister summarized her observations of today’s math homework:
“It’s retard math”
I could have responded with an explanation of what I knew about the common core. About the need to have students experience math differently, through partial products, through thinking in groups, by drawing arrays, and the certain value all of these alternative approaches would hold in building understanding as her children head towards Algebra, where thinking abstractly now will be a huge benefit. I could have given her a synopsis of my thoughts on the off-base and overly-simpistic Facebook posts regarding standard algorithms vs “new” methods, or how the Standards of Mathematical Practice are changing how math teachers consider instruction. I could have told her how Frank Noschese and Chris Robinson are super-heroes, for standing up to all of us in their twitter discussions with sound-bite artists.
But I didn’t do any of that.
I let the subject drop.
It was just easier that way.
Rather than entertaining a real debate, I gave up. And that’s a problem.
This clip featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson summarizes why we need math, and why we need to promote the pursuit of higher-level math now more than ever.
At this year’s Siemens STEM Institute, Cindy Moss challenged us all to think about what we would do in the next 6 hours, 6 days, 6 weeks, and 6 months relative to what we had learned at the Institute. I never did make that list. So with one last night before the start of another school year…here goes:
- 6 hours: write this post and share out Cindy’s great thoughts and ideas by sharing the Livestream below.
- 6 days: share some great new tools, and work with my colleagues to develop effective practices around them
- 6 weeks: start a new part of the blog of my daily math class openers. I use many videos, resources, and stories to open my class, even if they are not connected with the current content. These are often the highlights of our learning day.
- 6 months: have a serious conversation with my sister about why drawing arrays or counting rainbows isn’t “retarded”.
This year’s school resolution – be more aggressive in highlighting new and innovative practices, and work to be a more effective instructional leader.
If you have an hour, enjoy Cindy’s talk below. You’ll pick up some great ideas, and feel energized about your ability to make STEM work at your school.