Tuesday, October 14, 2014

That was then, this is now OR Thank you dad!

Principal ponderings...

Recently, I have had friends or family members come up to me and either ask about is going on with math in schools or more often, I have had them vent to me that they don't like what is going on with math in schools.  Everyone keeps talking about how they just don't get this "new math."  Or they are struggling to help their children with math homework because they do not actually understand the homework themselves.

This made me think back on my experiences with my father and math.  I am realizing now that I think my dad was ahead of the curve.  (Dad, if you are reading this, don't let it get to your head!) I can remember in 2nd grade I really struggled with understanding greater than and less than.  I just could not comprehend it.  So I would ask my dad for help on my homework.  Back then, math homework was always the same.  All of the odd problems on a page the one night and then all of the even problems the next night.  Actually, that was my homework from elementary all the way through high school.  So my dad would start to help me, and he would begin by explaining the concept and then it would turn into why I needed to know this concept in order to understand the next level up, like if I could figure out that 5 was greater than 3, then eventually I would be able to determine that 3+2 was greater than 2+1, and then I would be able to figure out that x + y was greater than 3. Meanwhile, all I heard was wah wah wah wah wah...you know the Charlie Brown teacher?  And I would repeatedly say to my father, or actually yell at him, "I don't need to know why, I just need to know the answer to this problem!"

Now, 30 some years later, here I am, explaining to family and friends that we want our students to know why 5 is greater than 3, not just that the answer is 5 > 3.  My dad was not teaching me "new math" back then.  He did not have a Common Core crystal ball that showed him what the future of math would be.  He understood that in order for me to truly learn these math concepts, to truly understand the purpose behind all of those practice odd and even questions...I needed to be able to explain my thinking.  I needed to be able to make sense of number sense.  I needed to be able to break numbers down and build them up.  But what I was taught, what most of us were taught, was to simply memorize steps and move on.

How did I move up the math ladder?  Well, I was a good student and I memorized individual steps and I aced tests.  And then I moved to the next math class and did that all over again.  I got to my senior year, and I remember being excited that I didn't need to take a math class.  So for my last year of high school...no math for me!  And that meant no more of the same conversation that I had been having with my dad for almost 10 years!  And then I went to college and tested into an advanced Calculus class...not really sure how that happened.  What happened during my freshman year?  I just about flunked out of the class.  Talk about a total shock to my system.  I was a student who got all A's.  I learned what the teachers taught me and then I spit it back on a test no problem.  Suddenly, I had to supposedly apply all of these concepts...even from way back in 2nd grade, greater than and less than...and I had to actually think for myself to solve problems and I had to explain my thinking and I had to actually demonstrate higher level math thinking in a lab once a week.  All of my "hard work" and completed homework assignments and perfect tests scores...well they amounted to nothing in that college course.  I was not prepared for that class.

So my answer to friends and family that ask...no, this is not "new math."  Having kids solve thousands of problems by simply memorizing steps will not allow them to independently think on their own and demonstrate critical thinking skills.  The research shows us that if kids are taught concepts, the why of math, they will retain the information much better.  Clearly, what we were teaching before, how we all learned math, has not worked.  As a country, we have consistently scored well below other countries who have taken a more conceptual approach to teaching math.  This is why the Common Core standards have been put in place.  Why would we keep using a method of teaching that was not effective?  I wish I had had the opportunity to learn math the way our students are learning it now.

And to my father I say, "Sorry dad.  I should have listened to you."  But I get it now, and I can't help but smile when I find myself saying to a student...don't you want to know why this is the answer? (And the voice in my head says...you have become your father!)  I may not have been able to admit it back then, but now I can say it...you were right dad!

Currently reading:
I am almost finished with When Life Gives You OJ.  Thank you to Laurie and Diane for encouraging me to stick with it and not abandon the book.  I am also still working on our admin book chat book, Primal Leadership.  I did just pick up a copy of Belly Laughs by Jenny McCarthy.  Now that I have made it to the third trimester, it's definitely necessary to be able to laugh about some of the wonderful (or not so wonderful) things that happen during pregnancy.
I also read another good picture book that I purchased from the book fair.  It's called If Kids Ran the World.  In this book, if kids really did run the world, then it would probably be a better place for adults!

Events this week:
Monday - Columbus Day, no school
Tuesday - Curriculum Day 8:00-2:00
Wednesday - Star Lab for 3rd grade, Staff meeting @ 3:30 in the library, School Committee Meeting @ 7:00 at the HS
Thursday - Lockdown drill @ 10:00, ***Literacy Collaboration Meeting at Tyngsborough Elementary School has been postponed until a later date, PTA meeting @ 7:30 in the FloRo cafeteria - Dr. Rodriguez will be the guest speaker

Great things I noticed last week:
  • Mrs. Wenz's class was doing lots of writing! 
  • Mr. Wiesner was working on pitch with a 3rd grade class. 
  • Mrs. Harper was working with a group of students as they expanded their vocabulary, learning about nouns.
  • Dr. Rodriguez came for a visit and enjoyed stopping off in Mrs. Taylor's kindergarten classroom.  She even got a 'Pete the Cat' hat!
  • Mrs. Hoke's student teacher, Ms. McElroy, spent Friday afternoon playing a math game with 2nd graders to help them learn their doubles strategies.

Check it out:
Here's a great video clip of Kate DiCamillo speaking at the 2014 National Book Festival:
I follow this librarian's blogs and he recently posted a list of his favorite books from 2014:
Here is how Twitter has had an impact on one teacher's professional growth:
Love this list that an administrator posted-what we should see happening in classrooms!:

And after a day that seemed more like summer than fall, I will leave you with this poem that I came across in my readings...

September Tomatoes
by Karia Borowicz

The whiskey stink of rot has settled
in the garden, and a burst of fruit flies rises
when I touch the dying tomato plants.
Still, the claws of tiny yellow blossoms
flail in the air as I pull the vines up by the roots
and toss them in the compost.
It feels cruel. Something in me isn’t ready
to let go of summer so easily. To destroy
what I’ve carefully cultivated all these months.
Those pale flowers might still have time to fruit.
My great-grandmother sang with the girls of her village
as they pulled the flax. Songs so old
and so tied to the season that the very sound
seemed to turn the weather.

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