Estimation

# Why Is This So Hard??

I sit here, staring at a blank page, trying to come up with something to write about. I like math, it should be easy to talk about, right? I’m going to be a teacher; it should be easy to connect to real life, right? Why is this so hard? Then I realized, it’s hard because I’m forcing it. Let’s stop forcing it. Let’s stop forcing kids to do math, let’s engage them in math instead. Let’s reinvent math, let’s do it together, and let’s start now!

A Little Story….

So, 3 and a half years ago my husband and I fostered an abused, adorable puppy from a local pound. She is an amazing dog; she is good with C, she stays in the yard, she is a good listener. But nobody is perfect, right? Libby angry poops. Yup, you read that right. When we leave her for too long, she angry poops (or pees) in the house. Our brand new, built in 2013, house. It doesn’t matter if we make sure she goes before we leave her, she saves it as our punishment for leaving. Disgusted, I pulled out her old wire kennel from the corner of the garage and set it up in the living room. It needed to be cleaned after sitting in the garage for 3 years. I took the vacuum to it, but it wasn’t enough. I pulled out one of C’s wipes (if you didn’t already know, the uses for baby wipes are endless) and began cleaning each wire rectangle. It was a long process. There were a lot of wire rectangles. Would I ever finish? When? How many rectangles are there?

Maybe you already get where I’m going here. This is the perfect situation to talk to students about multiplication. Here I have a multiplication table all set up. Better than that, we can talk about perimeter and surface area, we can cover it all! If you really wanted to get into, I could take a video of me washing each individual rectangle. We could watch the painfully slow, boring process until students beg to know when it’s going to be over. That’s when you hit them with it, “I don’t know, why don’t you figure out how long it will take?” I got this idea from ___ who took a video of a bucket slowly being filled and made his students watch it until they begged to know when it would be over, genius! Check out his TED Talk below.

Let’s Estimate

Estimation can be difficult process. It’s takes a deep understanding of operations, but it’s also an incredibly useful skill. Over the weekend I visited Americano Central, a Mexican market in Minneapolis. If you haven’t been there, I highly recommend it, the food is amazing. On the opposite side of the street is a Mexican grocery store with a beautiful mosaic wall. Take a look!

This would be a great estimation challenge for students. You could use their already amazing multiplication skills from the dog kennel story to challenge them. How could you divide up the wall? About how many pieces fit in each of your created segments? Ask each student to come up with an answer (and a valid justification) and submit their answers. Take a class poll and see what they think. In the end, we don’t know EXACTLY how many mosaic pieces are in the wall, welcome to real life, kids!

Those are just 2, really quick examples of how every day things use some serious math. So, don’t force students to use math, help them to realize just how useful math is!

# Standard Curriculum for the Standard Child

WARNING: This post is far more serious that my previous posts, but hang in there!

Last week in my math course we were asked to look into the Common Core standards. Before starting my research I had the following assumptions about Common Core and state standards

1. Standards were put in place to ensure every child learns what they will need
2. Standards are created by the education community
3. Common Core standards, especially the math methods, are confusing
4. Teachers dislike standards because they limit the depth of the content while expanding the breadth

Assumption 1: Standards were put into place for the children

I still believe this is true, to an extent. The idealistic standards were put in place to ensure that our nation’s children were learning what they needed to grow into successful human beings. After all, we want our nation to continue to be successful, right? Idealistically, that’s true. But where what’s going on in my community…When the baby boomers were in school they were taken care of by their parents. Their parents were more than happy to pass referendums; they would pay more taxes if it meant that their children would have a better life than they did. They build new state of the art schools with swimming pools and sports fields. Now, as adults, those baby boomers who were supported by their parents don’t find it necessary to give their hard earned money to the school. Referendum after referendum fails, teachers are let go, technology is dated, swimming pools are shutdown. Baby boomers are skeptical of the educational system, yet they are the ones designing the standards. Are they capable of looking beyond their pocket books? That brings me to assumption 2

Assumption 2: Standards are created by the education community

I believed that standards were created by the people that worked with children, or at least by those who have researched the way children learn. After some searching, I learned that standards are heavily influenced by corporate American, or more specifically, by the fortune 500 companies. Big companies have big bucks, and a big need for effective employees. The success of a company (which can also be read as “the profit for the executives”) is dependent on the skills of the employees. When you look at it that way, it’s easy to see why big companies are invested (literally) in the educational system. These corporate investments are, in a big way, thanks to the federally produced document “A Nation at Risk.” Check out the links at the bottom if you want to know more. Long story short, I was wrong, standards are always created or pushed for by the education community.

Assumption 3: Common Core standards, especially the math methods, are confusing

There are many MANY memes out there about Common Core math standards. Common Core moves away from the teaching styles that many of us are used to. It seems confusing and complicated to us, but the standards were based on the best standards from the states across the nation and modeled after successful international programs. They stress deep understanding of key ideas and are organized based on research around how students learn. It might be different than the way we were taught, but take one look at our nation’s international math standing and you’ll see that something has got to give.

Assumption 4: Teachers dislike standards because they limit the depth of the content while expanding the breadth

I still believe this is true. Anytime standards are brought up a tension rises in the room. Standards are rigid; they take away some of the freedom teachers once had. But those of you who are just starting out, like I am, standards are what we will know. The standards are well organized, and while they might limit what we teach, they give us the freedom to focus on how to teach it, rather than what to teach.

Moral of the story, assumptions, while sometimes hold true, lots of times let us down. Take the time to analyze your assumptions, I can guarantee you will learn something new.

Some information for you, as promised

Fortune’s article on Fortune 500 companies involvement in schools

New York Times article on corporate involvement in the classroom

A link to A Nation At Risk excerpt

Teaching Styles

# Keeping It Fresh

Hey, teachers…let’s keep it fresh! Yep, I’m bringing it way back in this post! Ok, so it might not be a phrase you want to use in your 6th grade classroom, but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Math teachers need to keep things fresh in their classrooms. There is so much research out there about the importance of keeping our classrooms moving, literally. Like most theories, it sounds simple enough, but putting it into practice can be tough. Since day one of returning for my teaching license I’ve been told that we have to be very purposeful about our teaching. We teach the way we are taught. The way I was taught is a far cry from the way I want to teach. Let’s take a peek at 2 very different teaching styles.

A little Ferris, anyone?

Ferris style teaching

Traditional math teaching, or as I like to think of it, Ferris style, is where the teacher stands in the front of the classroom and spews information at students, who are expected to soak it up and cough it out on the next test. We can all get a giggle out of the Ferris clip because we have all been there, but you can bet that we weren’t laughing in the moment. Rote memorization of math facts might have their place in the classroom, but if students do not grasp the concept, you can be sure the information won’t stick. The video emphasizes the lack of student engagement, I couldn’t even focus for the 90 second clip.

Finland style teaching

Finland is known for their educational system. Teachers are well payed and respected, students are top performers, school days are shorter and class sizes are smaller. Add that with their keen ability to get students working in teams and sharing their learning and you hold the key to success, well, part of it anyway. Did you notice how the students were doing real work? They were up, moving through the school, collecting data and analyzing it. They prepared their results and presented it to their colleagues. The team based, cooperative learning style got students engaged in real life math activities; activities that took the math off their papers and into their communities.

Let’s take a lesson or 2 from Finland. Let’s get students moving. Let’s get students engaged. Let’s keep things fresh.

A giggle, if you have time…

# Why, “I’ll never use this in real life” Won’t Fly in My Classroom

I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend! My husband and I celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary on the beautiful shores of Tenmile Lake in Hackensack, Minnesota with our son, my mom, my brother, and my sister-in-law. I pictured myself relaxing on the beach with my feet in the sand, away from the stresses of math homework, but it seems that math in everyday life is inescapable. As a child, I would complain about the uselessness of math, “I’m NEVER going to use this in real life” and my mom would always reply with some scenario where I would, in real life, need to know how to figure out the math content I was studying. That was the downfall to living with an elementary school principal.

Math is inescapable; we take for granted the math that comes to us to easily. Take, for example, my chore of setting the patio table for dinner by the lake on Friday night. There were 5 adults that would need a place setting (C had already eaten and was happily playing in the sand). Without a thought, I arranged the plates in a near perfect pentagon, all equally spaced – I guess geometry does come in handy. My mom was overly generous with dinner and bought 6 steaks, thinking that Cooper would eat at least some. Well, being a 2-year-old, he wanted nothing to do with his portion – that just meant more for the rest of us. We each finished our serving of steak and decided to split up C’s. 5 adults, 5 pieces, should be easy. Here comes the challenge, my mom wanted a small piece, the rest of us were willing to share equally, and the steak is not a perfect rectangle. Once I had an idea of what 1/5th of the steak would look like, I cut off one piece that was just a bit smaller and served it to my mom. From there I had to divide the rest evenly into 4 pieces, so I divided the steak in half, and then each half in half. The steak was perfectly done (medium rare) and thanks to the math skills I swore I would never use, it was also perfectly divided.

The Nitty Gritty

My weekends plans were a fun example of math used in an everyday activity.  The United States is lagging in our math and science skills compared to many other countries. This drop in ability may come as a surprise to people not in our profession, but those of us in the classroom know the test reports all too well. Falling test scores leads to public panic leads to more pressure on administration, teachers, and eventually students to improve test scores. Teaching styles are pushed away from teaching in a manner that is proven to reach students and back towards the traditional “I do…you do” approach. Students need to be engaged in their math content, they need to fully understand the real-world application, and they need to figure it out (mostly) on their own. Elementary math IS real world math. It’s up to us as teachers to make that connection clear, to bring interest and engagement back to the content, and to allow our students the time and space to explore math content in a way that is meaningful to them. Bring real world to the classroom; challenge them with real world applications and sit back and watch the productive struggle ensue.

Productive struggle is one of my favorite math terms, and something that I believe is lacking in our mathematics classroom. If you’re interested in learning more about productive struggle in the classroom check out this quick IGNITE video by Robert Kaplinksy by click on his picture below.

Uncategorized

# Hello!

Hey everyone!

I’m here to share my thoughts and research on teaching and learning math. I hope that we can take a fresh look on how students learn so that we can reinvent how we teach math. Let’s throw out rote memorization and focus on real, engaging, meaningful methods!

If you want to know more about me, check out my About Me section!