New Member: Tracey Weise from Norton, MA, USA
I am a teacher with 15.5 years of experience teaching math in Massachusetts to sixth graders. The first five years were in the elementary school environment where I taught all subjects to a class of about 24 students, and the last ten and a half years have been in the middle school environment where I have five classes with a total of about 100 students. For my first 8 years in middle school, I had one class that was “above grade level” and did pre-algebra. The last 5 years we have designated one class as modified – it still covers the majority of the 6th grade curriculum but moves a bit slower and we may not cover all the nitty gritty standards. We only have 48 minutes class periods which has never been enough time for me to do a complete lesson properly with closure and reflection.
I have not had much guidance by my district with the best ways to teach math, but I have always sought out to improve my practice and get the best professional development that I can. It is frustrating to spend hours planning and teaching only to find my students don’t retain the information for MCAS (our standardized test in Massachusetts) or for their future years in math classes. Every year, the math teachers in grades 6-12 get together and we hear the same complaints from each other about how our students can’t solve word problems, can’t remember algorithms taught in prior years and generally are weak in their ability to think mathematically, apply what they’ve learned, and persevere through challenges.
Over the past 5 or so years through my personal PD experiences, I have been introduced to the idea of focusing on the mathematical practices as being the priortiy in the math classroom, but have not felt I had a clear path on how to do that and still cover the standards that will be tested on MCAS. In June 2019, I had excellent PD on Fostering Math Practices through a Routines for Reasoning four day workshop by Grace Kelemanik and Amy Lucenta. Their methods gave me practical ways to understand and begin to implement the routines in my classroom that would get my students really thinking and making connections. They recommended looking more into Jo Boaler’s work, which I had been briefly introduced to a year before. Seeking to find more support and ideas to help me change my approach to teaching I began listening to podcasts in August and came across Making Math Moments that Matter. Yay! I became addicted and was listening whenever I drove, cooked or did the dishes (I don’t think I ever found working in my kitchen so enjoyable before!). I started the school year on fire to make changes, and I did completely change the way I started the school year and first unit and my students and I were loving it (and my principal), but I was burning the candle at both ends and ran out of steam. Anxious about falling behind my 6th grade math colleague in covering the curriculum by like two chapters in our book and being exhausted by the hours I was keeping, I resorted back to what was comfortable – I do, we do, you do – boooooorrrring! But the kids and I feel more comfortable with this approach and we move quicker (I know quicker does not mean they are going to retain it, but I didn’t feel the length of time I was taking before was gaining significant retention and mastery either as I am a newbie at the approach and definitely have to improve it.) I am still determined to get back to more engaging lessons that really foster math thinking and connections. And now we are on at least a 3 week break for COVID-19 concerns – so I think the rest of this year is lost, but I am hoping to use this time and the upcoming summer to plan out my year entirely or at least more than I have in the past so that I can stick to what I believe is the better way for math learning to really take place. I was very excited to see the 30 day free trial to test out the academy. I cannot get all my PD expenses reimbursed so it is nice when I can try something for free and then decide if I should pay for it by myself if I can’t convince my district to cover it.
I like that besides gaining great ideas and insights from the Podcast I have also heard the real struggles of real math classroom teachers, so I know that when at first I don’t succeed it doesn’t mean the new methods don’t work it’s just that I need to get better at it and my students need to get used to it and buy in. I feel like an island in my school system with trying to make changes, and I do wonder if success can ever be had if I am the first and only one trying to teach this way. I know I first must be able to prove success before I can convince others to try. So I look forward to being a part of a community of math teachers who are trying to improve and hope you all can help me get to a point where I can feel good about what is going on in my classroom and with the learning of my students. Thank you so much for the invite!
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