Making Mathemagicians

Welcome to the educational portion of the Freelance Dilettante. Here I will wax educational about my personal explorations of mathematics, and my developing love of the subject.

As I may have mentioned before, I was, for most of my life, an “I don’t math” person. It seemed obvious that my strength was more “right brain” (although this is a misconception, as language is also a “left brain” activity, and I certainly think in words…in fact, sometimes it’s a struggle to get them to stop) and I felt that proficiency in math was absolutely unattainable.

Then, something incredible happened. I was hired to teach Kindergarten mathematics.

Kinder math? A lot of people are confused, but yes. At the school in which I work, children as young as 5 have separate classes for STEM and literacy. There are high academic standards to be met, and the amount of work and teacher training in each subject is extensive. Therefore, it makes sense to have teachers concentrate on one subject or the other in order to improve the quality and depth of instruction.

So, here I was, a teacher who “didn’t math”, now mathing for a living. I wasn’t sure what was going to come of it.

What happened? The school year was a mess, but my students thrived: 1.8 years of growth in math. And something else happened. I fell in love with the Common Core standards.

I know you guys are all thinking, “What the hell? Those things are crazy and messed up. They don’t make any sense! I tried to do my kids’ homework, and neither of us could figure it out. You’re nuts, lady.”

My mental health aside, I must insist that the Common Core makes perfect sense to me. It is a beautifully constructed scaffold that builds from the very basics up, in order to develop a deep understanding of how math works. It shows students that all math is interrelated, and that it makes sense, and also teaches children how to think about math, in order to solve more and more complex problems.

If I had learned this way, I thought, I would certainly be able to math.

So, after a year of perhaps less than stellar teaching, I said to my boss, “Hey, you know our kids get a lot of extra support in literacy, but nearly none in math…how about I do that?”

And here I am.

As part of my pre-work for the school year, I read the following article: “Why Do Americans Stink at Math“, which pretty much sums up what I think the main problem is with Common Core.

I have said for several years now that the problem is not the Common Core itself, but the fact that school districts don’t bother to train their teachers how to teach it. I am incredibly grateful to work at a public school that invests so much time (300 hours a year) in professional development, as well as providing 1:1 coaching for every educator on campus. Before you ask, I work in a school in East San Jose, a very low-income area, with a large population of immigrant families and English language learners. I am not teaching rich white kids what they are already primed to know, and yet, our students achieve. Why? Because the teachers are prepared to teach, and to prepare their students to learn.

And isn’t that what we’re here for?