Saturday, August 13, 2016

Clear Water

So it begins.

Monday is the first day of school and thus begins my timid and small foray into the MathTwitterBlogosphere or #MTBoS. I've read a lot of math teacher blogs, and frankly have borrowed a lot of ideas from them, but I've never written my own. And there's good reason for that. It's because it's terrifying. There's a level of skin-thickness that has to come with doing this. After all, I'm going to lay ideas out there and see what comes back on them. Here's the thing, though: I'm pretty sure not all my ideas are good. I just don't really know sometimes which ones are and which ones aren't and if there's a wealth of intelligence and collaboration that far exceeds my own brain, I'm foolish if I don't take advantage of that. I guess there should be a little backstory before we get into my classroom.

I've actually been thinking about doing a math teacher blog for quite some time but couldn't make myself take the leap (see: terrified) until I read a thread of tweets on Dan Meyer's twitter feed and realized that I really needed to start doing it. Why? Because the discussion was how quickly teaching improves when you blog about it and take it seriously. The answer was 2:1. 2:1!!! Even if my base rate of improvement is slow, doubling it can't be a bad thing. So here I am.

And then there's the first day of school Monday. I'll spare you the gory details of what the first 10-12 weeks of my last school year was like and just jump to the fact that I'm a totally different teacher because those 10-12 weeks completely forced me to redefine, in the best possible way, what I do in my classroom everyday. It wasn't pretty, but then I spent the rest of the school year just becoming a teacher again. This year, I'm going to become a better teacher. I hope.

So what am I doing this year? What am I hoping to accomplish with my bright-eyed young freshmen? Well, if you know me, it's no big secret that I'm a huge fan of Hamilton: An American Musical, and as I explored more about it, I also became a huge fan of the creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda. Sometime over the summer I ended up watching an interview with Miranda and he said something that has been bouncing around in my head ever since. The question was something like, "How do you know what to write?" and his response was that writing is sometimes like turning on a faucet and watching rusty water flow out and you keep watching it flow and you keep working with that faucet and eventually, clear water comes out, and that's what you write down, the clear water. It stuck with me. Clear water. 

That's what I want for my freshmen math students.The more that I think about it, the more that I think we're wired to understand relationships in the real world. That probably sounds stupid because it just sounds so obvious, but I don't think it's as obvious as I think it is. Take, for example, Katie Ledecky. If you watched or read anything related to the Olympics this week you'll know who she is and what she's managed to accomplish. But the bottom line is everyone knew that Katie was going to win after probably the first 150m of the 800 free. Why? Because her rate of change (speed) was just simply faster than everyone else's. Most of us wouldn't describe it that way, but then I started to wonder if that's part of the problem.  Has the rat race of mathematics education potentially led my students, who come from 60+ middle schools across multiple counties, to stop wondering about things like, "How much faster is she really?" and to worry about things like, "But am I going to get the answer right?" Has the way that I used to, and sometimes probably still do, deliver math instruction totally and completely obliterated any sense of curiosity about the way that students understand math? Have I become the reactant that has caused the rust that is mucking up the chance for clear water? Maybe. This year, I'm aiming for clear water. I want to get rid of the rust and make space for the clear water to run and in the end I want the students to see both the rust and the water, because for them to see one, they have to recognize what the other is. To get rid of the rust, they have to know what's causing it and to get to the water, the rust has got to be run out.

Here's hoping. Anything is still possible in the anticipation leading up to the first day of school. Anything.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! I love the idea that "her rate of change (speed) was just simply faster than everyone else's."

    I was talking about Katie's race with my son and I think it would be a cool math problem to figure out how fast Katie Ledecky swam the 800 meters in miles per hour (of course, for shorter distances, I'm sure her speed would be faster). My son pointed out that for the 800 meter race, it would be an easier conversion to km per hour ... and of course he's right. But the point is that math is everywhere. Your students are lucky to have you stoking their curiosity and helping them recognize the rust and get to the clean water.

    -Steve Goldberg