Every time the weather gets turns favorable, I get inspired to grab some sidewalk chalk and do #sidewalkmath. It’s been a thing for me the last couple of years. It’s a great way to promote public displays of math (which we never see), get the general public thinking about math (which rarely happens informally), and work in some creativity in the process. I’ve been messing around with #sidewalkmath in the neighborhood where I live (here and here), and I’ve also had students take part the last couple of years.
With this in mind, last week I took the kiddos out to let them publicly showcase their mathematical prowess via the sidewalk. They were graphing trigonometric functions and the sidewalk was primed and ready to go. I numbered each slab in front of our school, paired them up, and gave them a trig function. I let them go. After they graphed their own equation, they had write the equation for another graph on the sidewalk.
I read somewhere that our school is located in the poorest congressional district in the U.S. While the kids and I were out in front of our school sketching the functions, it hit me that the overwhelming majority of the people that walked by our math probably had clue what they were looking at. That’s disappointing for sure, but precisely why doing it was so important.
Today is Valentine’s Day. I don’t really celebrate it, but it hit me that I recent conversation would make for the perfect post for today.
A couple weeks back, a group of colleagues and I were sitting around having a conversation about the teaching profession at my school. We talked about a lot of stuff ranging from our views on professional development, the transition that comes with changing schools, how to best reach struggling students, among other things.
I can’t remember exactly what I was talking about, but at one point I finished my thought and one of the relatively younger teachers in the group told me, in a matter-of-factly sort of way, “man, you talk about teaching as if it were love.”
Wait, what? Did he just drop the L word?
He probably didn’t think twice about his remark, but I was caught off guard.
I never thought about it, but he was right. The moment was an unexpected self-realization. I was, and often do, talk about teaching like I would talk about love. It’s not far-fetched to say that most people would equate “talking about love” to expressing deeply held emotions that one holds for someone or something. I don’t want to sit here and try to define love, but I think it’s fair to say that it means to be strongly connected by means of admiration and devotion. It indicates an unbreakable bond and profound respect. It means embracing the inevitable struggle and hardship attached to the subject of your love.
All of that, and more, reflects the feelings I have for teaching and the teaching profession. It’s not just a job or career for me, it’s a relationship. It can be too heavy at times for certain discussions, but hey, it’s coming from a great place. A place filled with love.
At the beginning of the school year I developed some goals. They were ambitious, to say the least. It was around the start of December that I realized how unreasonable my expectations were for 2016-17. I’ve been in the game for a while, I should’ve known better. Shame on me.
Despite my lack of judgement and setting myself up for failure, three of my goals came with a higher priority for me. This post serves as a self-critique on my progress towards one of those three: my use of instructional routines.
I worked on these routines a lot last summer through New Visions (here and here) and at TMC16. I had a crazy vision that they would transform my teaching this year. They were going to help my students leverage mathematical structure like never before. Being routines, I was going to get better at using them as the year progressed. I was going to learn to lean on them.
Well, next week the first semester is coming to a close and my use of them has been pitiful. Sure, my first unit in algebra 2 held much promise. I used the routines five times over the course of a few weeks, which was a huge win in my book. I started off strong. Slowly, though, I got bogged down with the curriculum. I got consumed with more immediate concerns and stressors, like being at a new school, running around to three different classrooms during the day. In the meantime, I forgot all about the instructional routines that I so zealously committed myself to back in September. I’ve used Connecting Representations one time since that first unit. I haven’t used Contemplate then Calculate at all.
Accepting this isn’t easy because of how much I really wanted to use these routines. That said, I know that it’s normal to unintentionally forget about goals. But I also know that if I recognize the struggle, write about it, and let it breath, I can begin realigning myself to the vision I had back in September.
What’s great is that I’ll soon begin digging into Routines for Reasoning and have scheduled a workshop with New Visions, both of which should help me find the routines that I so desperately want to implement.