Here’s a prompt that I’ve used with my students at various points this year:
I’ll vary it by asking them to make a graph about their day up to that point. Like, if it’s sixth period, they’ll have to make a graph describing how they felt during periods 1-5. Or, if it’s a Monday, I may ask them about their weekend. When semester one ends in January, I also plan on asking them to sketch their feelings from September to January. There are so many possibilities. Come to think of it, it’s not unlike the #YearInMath hashtag that made the rounds on Twitter at this time last year.
No matter how I spin it, I’ve noticed that my kids almost always make a mad dash to one of the giant whiteboards around the room to make their graph as if there’s a prize waiting for the person finishes first. Trust me, there’s not. But they are so darn eager to reflect in this mathematical sort of way. Some are more playful than others, but they always kickstart a discussion.
Curious, several weeks back I asked them why they love taking on this task so much. One girl said point blankly, “because we’re not usually asked by teachers about how we’re doing.”
At the moment it struck me that she’s right. I’m guilty of this all the time. The bell rings and I immediate jump into all the work that I meticulously (or hastily) planned for the day. We are relearning how to factor because 80% of the kids bombed the exam. Or that we need to finish complex numbers because winter break starts Friday. Or because my AP is coming in and needs to see students “actively engaged in their own learning.” Or because I feel like crap and slept a total of 4 hours and I just need the period to be over.
There’s always something. Teachers know this.
Yup, there’s always something each day that encourages me to overlook the fact that there are humans in front of me, the fact that my kids come into room 227 each day with complex and varied lived experiences. Like me, they have their own agendas, their own issues — most of which I’ll never know anything about. This is important to not forget.
There are boatloads of things that I need to accomplish with my kids. While I know that I can’t cater to each of their 30 unique sets of needs, what I can do is honor who they are and what they’re feeling in the moment. We can take 3 minutes to slow down, breath, and reflect. I can consciously decide to acknowledge their frustration, their anxiety, their joy. Mathematically, these graphs are one (fun) way of doing that.