Back in September, one of my own professional goals for this school year was to find a way to professionally collaborate more with my math colleagues. Being the 8th grade math teacher, I wanted to understand where my scholars were coming from in 6th and 7th grade math. Mathematical understanding is something that develops over time, and just like I wanted my 8th graders to be ready for high school math when they left me, I wanted my incoming 8th graders to be ready for 8th grade/ Integrated Algebra.
To begin working on this goal, I asked myself the question "What will I learn about collaborative professional development by getting together with math colleagues and doing math problems together?" and started this blog to document my action research journey. Beginning in October 2011, the JBA began meeting regularly after school, and in addition to talking about work and lesson plans, we began doing math together. Oftentimes I would be the one bringing math problems or tasks that I found to the group, but there were a few occasions where the other math teachers would bring in a math problem for the group to do.
Some meetings we started off doing problems and would spend 10-15 minutes on them, other times we would get so engrossed in the math, that our whole meeting would be simply doing the math, and talking about it. For me personally, it was a positive experience getting together with my fellow math colleagues and taking off our "teacher hat" and just be this group of people discussing and solving math problems together. I believe that my action research blogging journey shows that what I have learned most about collaborative professional development, so far, by getting together with math colleagues and doing math problems together is that you build a team by constructing community knowledge. One of my biggest fears back in October was that even though I was trying to bring the math team together, I wasn't trying to run the math department. As we continued to meet together every other week or so, I found that that became less of a concern and I think that doing math together was part of the reason for that. Doing and discussing the problems together made everyone equal on our math team.
I hope that as a team, we can sustain what we have been doing through the exhausting test-prep season. Even though we won't be able to meet as a whole group for a while because most of us will be out scoring state exams over the next few weeks, I am looking forward to collaborating with my colleagues to close out the year strong for our scholars and for ourselves as a team.
Sunday, April 15, 2012
Since it was Spring Break this week and I didn't formally meet with my colleagues, I wanted to share this article that I got in this week's Accomplished Teacher by SmartBrief email, Numbers Game: America's Struggle to Make Math Fun.
This article talks about "America's cultural problem with math... and how a brave group of educators and entrepreneurs think they can change that. With games and competitions, museums and traveling road shows - and a strategic sprinkling of celebrities - they aim to make math engaging, exciting and even fun." This is something that I struggle with on a daily basis. Growing up, I was a "good math student" but I struggled with it constantly. I could study and pass tests, but it wasn't until I started teaching with math really started coming together for me. I have been in the middle of many lessons with my 7th and 8th graders, and all of a sudden, something clicked and the math made sense to me.... more than 10 years after I first learned the material. Back then, knowing why things worked it math didn't matter to me. I was able to memorize formulas and procedures, but it was only recently did I start "doing math." Math wasn't fun then, but I was still able to be successful with it later on.
To me, the most interesting quote from the article is "While he applauds the tournaments and treasure hunts and most especially the math museum, veteran math teacher J. Michael Shaughnessy says it will take more than good PR to boost math's appeal. It will take a cultural revolution. Every time he hears a parent tell a child, "I've done fine without math," or "You don't really need to know that," he quietly but urgently interrupts. "That gives kids permission not to try hard at a subject that's really challenging for everyone," said Shaughnessy, the president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. "It's doing national damage." My catchphrase this year in my Integrated Algebra classroom is "Trust yourself" because ultimately that is what I want my students to do. It's not my math, or some ancient person's math, it's just math. And yes its confusing sometimes. But it's OK to struggle. And part of what makes that struggle so worth it, is trusting yourself and trusting the math.
What am I learning about collaboration?
I love reading articles like this and I think it's important for teachers to be able to read and share information that is important to them and their teaching whether it's through a weekly email newsletter, blog, or PLC. We can't do it alone.