Math Education Concepts

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Advice for Non-Math Educators

I recently taught an algebra course to students pursuing teaching careers in subjects other than math (social studies, languages, history, reading, etc.).  This was a very challenging, but enlightening experience for me.  Think about your passion for a moment, whether it’s art, finances, real estate, etc.  Now imagine teaching that topic to a room full of people who are not interested and have no problem letting you know their feelings throughout the lesson.  That was me.  It was somewhat heart-breaking, but my reality at the time.

Prior to teaching the course I was warned about the group, but nothing would prepare me for the lackluster reception I received from this group.  Several weeks of “I don’t like math” or “why do I have to learn this” can wear down even the most patient of us.  I remained professional, but shared my feelings as well.  After all, this was a course with discourse.  So why not take advantage of all the teachable moments.

So here are a few pieces of advice I would give to non-math educators.

  1. What you think and feel will project onto your students.

The attitudes of many of my students really made me think about the experiences of so many people who really believe they hate math.  As I sat in that classroom week after week it became clear to me that those feelings were once projected onto so many people, even the students sharing them at that moment.  They never had a chance.  For example, a Kindergarten teacher taking my course once asked me why they needed to learn the material, since they will never use it.  (Do you have any idea how many times I’ve heard that from my students through the years?)  I took a step back and thought about the question for a moment.  I didn’t have an appropriate answer, so I just stood there in silence and let the words fall on our ears.  My feelings were of pity for the poor students who would one day sit in from of that teacher with those negative thoughts and feelings about math.

  1. Give what you expect to receive from your students.

One day I collected homework to make sure my students were completing their assignments and making an effort.  One student crammed a crumbled piece of paper into my hands.  The page was carelessly ripped from a spiral notebook, and not from the perforated edge.  I looked at it and thought about its condition for a moment.  No, this is unacceptable, I thought.  I look at the student.  I asked her if she would accept this from one of her students.  She said “no.”  I returned the paper to her and said “then I will not accept it from you.”  I was appalled that she thought it was okay to hand in something she would not accept herself. Hmmmmm….

  1. Try to view things from your student’s point of view.

As frustrating as these few weeks were, I remained professional and compassionate.  I thought about my students and what they must have been going through.  Here they are taking this required course in a subject they may never use again.  To make matter worse, the instructor was bubbly and passionate about the material.  So after week 1 I decided to look at things from the point of view of my students.  I still had to cover the material, but I added examples from the various subjects they would teach and tried to hear them out when they vented.  I was honest with them and shared some of my own experiences with non-math subjects (I did not like History courses and gave my high school teachers a really hard time – karma).  Once I became a little empathetic, the weeks felt lighter and the students smiled more.  They still didn’t love math, but the atmosphere in the classroom was more pleasant.  I even got a cake and snacks for my birthday!

  1. Treat your instructor the way you want your students to treat you.

My students were very hard on me, in the beginning.  While I understood their resentment toward the class, I didn’t appreciate their treatment towards me, the instructor.  One day, they will be in front of a class full of students who do not like or want to learn what they are teaching.  The hope is that their students will separate the course from the teacher and not treat the teacher like they are the course.  As I stated earlier, I gave my history teachers a hard time.  I got every bit of that back in one semester.  It was brutal!!!  When I remembered my treatment towards those teachers, I laughed.  It was my turn to get back what I dished out all those years ago.  It was a valuable lesson for me.  When you attend PD (or take courses) please treat the presenter/facilitator the way you want your students to treat you.

  1. It’s okay to step out of your comfort zone for the greater good.

Every now and then, take time to learn about a subject that doesn’t interest you.  It will broaden your thought process and “stretch” your brain a bit.  It’s okay to hang out in your comfort zone, but leaving it every now and then will aid in your professional (and personal) growth.  For years I rejected this idea, it just didn’t sit well with me or make sense.  Then one day I decided I would spend a year stepping out of my comfort zone.  It was very uncomfortable.  One thing I made it a point to do was to attend events (workshops, seminars, etc.) alone.  That’s not something I usually did or that was easy for me to do.  I did it for one year.  It was refreshing, I learned a lot, and I met new people.  Now, when I have to go to an event alone, it’s easy to do.  It’s now part of my comfort zone.  I even introduce myself to complete strangers – not an easy thing to do for me.

I hope this advice resonates with someone out there.  If you know a non-math educator, please share this blog with them: they may never stumble upon it on their own.

Do you have additional advice for non-math educators?

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Math Power Hour

A few years ago I wanted to try something new.  So I came up with this idea that would serve several purposes:

  1. Marketing for my former tutoring company
  2. Helping Philly students who could not afford quality tutoring services
  3. Testing the idea of peer tutoring with secondary students

In came “Math Power Hour.”  We recruited 10 Philly students in grades 7-12 for 8 weeks of free small group (peer) tutoring in Mathematics.  The courses ranged from Pre-Algebra to Pre-Calculus.  We paid 1 tutor for her services and we, the senior staff educators, facilitated the sessions.  Each session was 2 hours long (a total of 16 hours of tutoring), from 4 – 6 pm.  Snacks were also provide during the sessions.

The students would arrive with their books and materials from school.  The first hour was spent on homework help.  The second hour was spent on practice problems that were selected by the senior staff.  The practice problems focused on typical challenges students in this grade range faced (word problems/applications, fractions, solving equations, patterns, etc.)

During the sessions students were paired with their peers (students in their grade).  If they still needed help, an older student was assigned to help.  The next step was for the tutor to step in and tutor the students who needed individual attention.  As a final resort, the senior staff educators would step in.  The goal was to engage students in the concept of study groups and peer tutoring.  In the absence of adult help, students should be able to get help from a peer and feel comfortable doing that.

What I learned from Math Power Hour:

  1. The students truly enjoyed their time and received much needed help with Mathematics
  2. The parents appreciated the extra homework help at no cost to them
  3. The students enjoyed helping their peers
  4. We enjoyed helping a few Philly students grow in such a short period of time

Ideally, this would have been an annual, or even quarterly, occurrence.  But as with all things, life just got in the way.  Would I do it again?  Absolutely!  It was fun, rewarding, and refreshing!  If this sounds intriguing to you, by all means give it a try in your city, school, organization, neighborhood, subject, etc.  Let me know how it works out for you!

Have you done something similar?  How did it work out for you?


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My Future after Math Corps Philly

Many of you have followed my blog through the years and may remember when I started working on Math Corps Philadelphia.  It has been a remarkable experience for me!  I learned a lot, met great people, and grew as a professional and as a person.  The best part about Math Corps Philadelphia is the lives that changed (for the better) as a result of all the hard work of everyone involved.

It saddens me that we are no longer able to offer this free summer camp for Philly kids.  There are several reasons for this decision (money, politics, etc.), but I won’t go into that here.  But I will say that this was not my choice and I had very little, if any, say in this.

As I reflect upon my experiences with Math Corps Philly, I think about the things I will miss the most:

  • I will miss the kids and watching them have fun during summer camp. 
  • I will miss the parents eagerly sending their kids to summer camp to learn and grow. 
  • I will miss shopping for daily breakfast and attending recruitment events. 
  • I will miss the late nights making sure everything is taken care of and everyone has what they need. 
  • I will miss being part of the Math Corps Philly Family.

Although there is some sadness, I am very excited about my future after Math Corps Philly!  I do not know what’s ahead for me, but I am excited to find out.  Should I continue my work in Math Education, I will update you here.  Of course, I will always have a love for this “stuff,” so I won’t stray too far.

Thank you for all you’ve done to support me with Math Corps Philly through the years!


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What are Your Math Goals

Yes, I am talking to you…  Even if you are not in school or working in a math-related field (although all fields are math related on some level) you should have math goals.

My math goal is simple: Keep growing mathematically!  I will do this by practicing the following:

  1. Read books about math topics
  2. Work on random math problems and puzzles
  3. Help students learn math
  4. Teach a math course or lesson
  5. Encourage youth to work to improve their math grades
  6. Keep math on my mind

Now I know some of these items seem hefty for some people and that’s okay.  The key is to think about what your math goals are for the upcoming year.  Will you save money?  Will you clip coupons?  Will you take a course for fun?  Will you attend a math camp?  Will you improve your math grade?

There are a lot of things you can do to grow mathematically.  What are your math goals for 2018?


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Quick and Dirty Guide to CCSS Math

Written For Tutors

In all my years of tutoring (20+) I have yet to go through one full year without a major issue arising, in mathematics education, that tutors have to face.  This year (and over the past few years) that issue has been Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  Many tutors want to know how to help their students when standards have changed, or become more uniform across states.  These changes have resulted in the development of mathematics curriculum and use of new texts in many school districts.  However, although many states have adopted the CCSS, the standards do not require a specific curriculum or text.  (This leaves the door wide open for companies to sell their products claiming to be aligned with the standards.)  To make matters more confusing, many districts can make their own decisions about what materials to use to teach their students.  This creates a struggle for many tutors: the materials changed suddenly, the expectations are higher for students, and parents can’t begin to explain why their child struggles with the content.

In light of this, I have good news… for tutors!  The standards are for teachers to worry about; your concern is helping your students learn the material being taught.  Below I listed a few tips/strategies for helping your students during the CCSS era.  Many of the tips here are not original or new, but may be more relevant to the expectations placed upon students as a result of the CCSS.  So, let’s get going…

Please feel free to add to these or modify them to accommodate your students’ needs.  I hope this is helpful and will alleviate some stress!

  • Help students think critically and analytically – higher order thinking is an expectation
  • The standards are for teachers to use during instruction – no need to feel compelled to include them in your instruction
  • Know and understand the standards so you can help your students – know what your students are expected to do and understand
  • Tutor with the same confidence you had before CCSS adoptions – students will trust you more if they feel you are confident
  • Get your students accustomed to justifying their answers – if your students can justify their answers, then, most likely, they understand the concept taught
  • Change the format of the problems so you can check for understanding – students should understand the concept behind the problem rather than just the procedure for solving it
  • Know the language used in the standards – encourage your students to use and know it as well
  • Speak positively instead of negatively about the standards – if you resist the change, so will your students, but they will hurt in the end
  • Don’t panic – or your students will panic as well
  • Relax – so your students can relax and learn

Resources:

  1. Common Core State Standards
  2. Common Core Math Standards
  3. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM)
  4. National Research Council’s “Adding it Up”
  5. EdReports.org