Thursday, August 16, 2018

Increase Your Confidence, Engage with Tech, and Know Your Mistakes are Valuable

I saw a challenge from the incomparable Sam Shah on Twitter to present for the Virtual Conference of Mathematical Flavor a couple of weeks ago. I tweeted to Sam and decided to take the challenge.

As you may (or may have not seen) I have accepted a new position and am teaching in the town where I live! So, I wanted to wait until school was in for a couple of weeks to fully answer the prompt.

This is my seventh year teaching mathematics, and I have been fortunate to have some varied teaching experienced. I taught one year in the Mississippi Delta in a pretty tough school through Teach for America, four years in a small, rural high school in east Tenneseee, and one year in an urban school in east Tennessee. Now, I am teaching at a high school of about 1400 students in a suburb in east Tennessee.

When I was a student in elementary school through college, something that was lacking was my confidence in math. I always tried to compare myself to other classmates, and I would always think that I "sucked at math." I always was on an honors track in school, although we didn't have honors math classes where I went to high school. I took Algebra I in 8th grade, Algebra II in 9th grade, and etc. By the time I got to pre-calculus in my junior year, I had definitely become a helpless hand raiser. However, my teacher, Mrs. Owens, always encouraged me to increase my confidence in math, and she helped me to see that I was in fact a math person (just like every one else).

So, forgive my little personal story there, but it set the foundation that one of my guiding principles is to help students increase their confidence in mathematics. I try to design my lessons in a way that will help increase understanding in mathematics, even if ever so slightly. One way I design my lessons is that I try to see the potential in every kid and try to make connections to previous content and building blocks. I always say that if I helped a kid increase their confidence in mathematics, that I must be doing something right.

I am an avid fan of using technology in the classroom, and sometimes kids aren't used to this. At one of my previous schools, we became 1:1 when I was there, and I was one of the leaders in this project. I was so amazed in how tech helped students become better learners, helped increase retention, and helped test scores. So, I try to integrate tech wherever I can. At the school I was at last year, I shared a cart with another teacher, and she was a more than gracious host, so I had it a decent amount of time. At my new school, the kids have Lenovo ThinkPad laptops, so we will be using them most days! With awesome tools, such as Desmos (which I am pretty sure kids think I own stock in Desmos), Edulastic, Pear Deck, Quizizz, Kahoot, Plickers, and many more that I can't think of at the current moment. Kids are able to engage with math in ways that we haven't been able to in the past, and, as a result, they are able to see math as more dynamic and not just some problems on a worksheet or textbook.

I read Mathematical Mindsets a couple of years, and I totally bought in to the concept of mistakes are valuable. I posted Jo Boaler's math norms in the front of my classroom that following August, and they go up every year! One of the main norms I focus on is that our mistakes are valuable, and we use them to learn! Most kids buy in to this, and I really try to sell it. I even had one group one year do a choral response to "Mistakes are...valuable!" I have personally seen and experienced the power of showing kids that their mistakes are valuable. It causes students to look more closely at their mistakes, and often seeing in the process, that the majority of their mistakes are small. I also found a poster at the Bullseye playground at Target that says "Mistakes are proof that you are trying," thus further cementing the idea that mistakes are valuable and an important part of doing and learning mathematics.

Overall, I feel like these are the "flavors" that are served each and every day in my classroom with my students. As far as what math is or what math feels like, I feel that some of the methods I have are unorthodox, but my goal is a math teacher is to open the eyes of my students to see the beauty and depth of math. I try to convey the message that everyone can do math, but they have to put their mind to it and work hard! I also try to plan my lessons with the fact in mind that I want math to be accessible and approachable. Therefore, my main ideals to move the needle in math is to set up an environment where confidence is increased, technology is a key of what we do, and knowing that mistakes are valuable and people won't be ridiculed or made fun of based on mistakes.

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