Thursday, February 28, 2013

Math Mindset

For quite some time, I have thought about how I will be able to engage my students in learning. It seems that many students do not want to participate or try in math classes because of one reason or another. Too often I hear people say that they are "just not good at math" or that they cannot "do math" because their parents were not good at it. I want to make sure my students do not have that mindset.

To me, it seems that there is a difference in the way people think about math versus other subjects. In my experience, people believe that there are two types of students: those who can do math and those who cannot. Of course, I do not believe this. I believe that everyone can "do math" as long as they put some effort into it. Whenever I think about the different learning styles and when people say that math is not their subject, I think about how it's different than other subjects. Math is just another subject in school. Sure it has to deal with numbers and abstract concepts sometimes (Oh and don't forget when they start adding in letters!), but really, is it any different than any other subject? You still have to learn how to use proper grammar for English or wait the correct amount of time for a note in music or recognize different movements based on the time period in history. Even after years upon years of math classes, I still have to learn how to do some concepts in math. No one is immune to the necessity of learning.

As we grow older, certain subjects can seem easier and others harder but the purpose of school, of subjects, is to discover what you need to learn and help you learn. This is where the concept of a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset comes in handy. It takes a certain mindset to succeed, no matter what the objective is. If our students are set on the fixed, I-can't-do-it-because-it's-math mindset, they could potentially hold onto that poor self-concept in other parts of life.

At the 2013 SDSTA/SDCTM joint conference, I discussed fixed and growth mindsets with some teachers in the field. We all agreed that one of the most dangerous ideas in terms of learning math is having a fixed mindset rather than a growth mindset. It's the idea of "I don't know this stuff and I never will" versus "I don't know this stuff but I can learn." Building off this is one of my favorite phrases: confidence is key. You have to be able to believe in yourself and your capacity for learning otherwise you'll remain fixed rather than expanding what you know.

The big question is: How do we get our students to recognize the difference between the two mindsets and encourage them to grow?

I don't think I have an answer for this cosmic question. In fact, I don't know if I will ever have a perfect answer. Will anyone ever be able to come up with some formula to solve this mystery?

The problem is that there cannot be a fixed answer. Our classrooms and our students are dynamic. All we can do is encourage students to keep a growth mindset and show them that yes, they can figure out how long it takes Train B to catch up to Train A.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Looking at the Common Core Standards from a prospective teacher's point of view!

   Wow! Looking at the Common Core Standards there is a lot of "stuff" that we are going to be required to teach our students in a short amount of time. In some schools, teachers will be required to teach twice the amount of information in the same amount of time that they were given before the new standards. On top of having more to cover in the same amount of time, we will be evaluated on how well our students do on the Smarter Balance test that covers the Common Core Standards. It is quite overwhelming! In this blog, I am going to talk about some of the things I am worried about with the standards, and some of the reasons why I am glad we are all switching to common standards.

   First of all, I will talk briefly about what I am worried about with the new standards. Like many, I am worried about not having enough time to teach everything, and I don't want to have to make the decision to leave something out when everything is equally important. There are so many new technologies and activities that I would like to use in my classroom, but I am worried that with the amount of material I will need to cover I won't have time to enrich my lesson plans with technology and in depth discovery. In addition, I have mixed feelings about having the students take the Smarter Balance tests online. I want my students to work out the problems and show me the steps they have to take to get the answer, and I am not completely sold on how doing the tests online will encourage this.

   Secondly, I will discuss why I am glad we are all switching to Common Core Standards. Growing up in a HS of about 800 students, I had a lot of opportunities to take a range of Math courses. We had courses from Pre-Algebra to AP Calculus. Although we were given the opportunity to take these courses, some of the topics that should have been covered in our Algebra 2 class weren't covered until Pre-Calculus, and most students don't make their way up to that high of a math. One of the topics that wasn't taught until later was the topic of matrices. These were not taught until Pre-Calculus, even though there are matrices on the ACT. As a student, this was frustrating because there was a topic on the math portion of the ACT that I hadn't even heard of before, and I felt like my HS didn't prepare me well enough to take the test. I believe that it will be beneficial for all of us to follow the Common Core Standards because we will all be taught the same material. So when we go into national  tests, like the ACT, we will all be on the same playing field. In addition, I look forward to what our math programs will be like in 10 years. I think as educators we are all overwhelmed right now but the amount of information we are going to be required to teach our students, but I believe in the long run the common standards are going to be a wonderful thing in our school systems. Of course, the transition years are going to be rough, but we can only go up from there. :)

   In conclusion, whether we are worried, overwhelmed, excited, or complaisant about the new Common Core Standards, as educators we all need to band together and help each other walk through this changing time. We are all going to stumble and fall, but if we help each other get back up we can grow and succeed together.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Math Education Criticisms

     So I googled "math education" to see if any interesting blogs popped up, and honestly I was surprised. There were so many instant results that simply criticized  math education and didn't offer any realistic solution. The first one I read I couldn't even finish, it referred to math as soul crushing and I just couldn't keep reading that article.
     The next article I read wasn't quite so, let's say 'mean spirited' toward math education but still highly critical. Here's the link: . On the FAQs page it talks about how as teachers we only teach "computing" and not enough mathematical thinking, they suggest using computers to replace the hand calculations. But they do not take into account that computers, calculators, or any other technology that solves math for a student doesn't help them understand the "mathematical thinking" for that question.
     The article suggests that learning how to do the hand calculations is irrelevant, and students only need to know how to set up a problem. They do not take into account that without solving the problem students don't learn from their mistakes as easily. Without doing the hand calculations students don't learn the mathematical concepts. Its like saying that students shouldn't be allowed to learn math in a concrete way or with specific examples but should be restricted only to the abstract thought that math involves.
      This article states "computers should be used for computing and students should learn concepts, applications, and interpretation and validation skills from teachers" but they don't realize that as teachers we do teach all of those things. We teach concepts on a daily basis, reinforcing them with real world applications. We ask students to validate their work by asking them to explain their work. We make students interpret word problems and computational work for their meaning. All of these things happen in a mathematics classroom today.
     I can't think that they are referring to a classroom twenty years ago either. The technology may be changing, but the math curriculum hasn't been altered enough much to say these things were missing before. Even my math teacher in high school, who taught geometry, pre-calculus and calculus every year the exact same way, for multiple decades, covers "concepts, applications, and interpretation and validation skills" in her class on a daily basis.
     I think this criticism is excessive, I think it is uncalled for, but I also think we need to be aware of the level of criticism we face as math teachers.  How easy is it to blame the teacher for any student who doesn't excel at math, even if that student doesn't try, doesn't attend class, or maybe just shouldn't be in that level of a math class. It is very easy to blame the teacher, but I don't think the teacher deserves it.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

So Many Devices, So Little Use

In this article by Howard Pitler, he shares data gathered by McREL, which has a classroom tool called Power Walkthrough.  They gathered information from more than 60,000 classrooms that use this tool.  They went into classrooms to see what kinds of technology were being used and how often they were used by both teachers and students.  Graphing calculators, interactive whiteboards, document cameras, online software, and many other similar technologies were recorded.  If any of these technologies were used even briefly, they recorded the classroom as having used technology.  Their studies revealed that in 63 percent of their observations of teachers, no technology was utilized.  This number increased to 73 percent for students utilizing no technology.

In an era where emphasis has been put into using technology to educate our students, these numbers seem appalling.  In many of these situations, the teachers had easy access to use technology.  It was their decision to simply not use the technology.  The main reason for this was their lack of confidence in being able to use the technology appropriately.  For example, some teachers in the Midwest were taught how to use a technology at a workshop.  They were excited to go back to their classrooms and use this technology, but their software was slightly different and they were not able to use it the way they had been taught.

By this point, all of us have had plenty of experiences with learning new technologies.  The process can be very frustrating and time consuming.  The blame for teachers not being able to use the technologies appropriately falls onto the school administrators and the teachers themselves.  School administrators cannot expect a teacher to be able to learn how to use an Interactive Whiteboard from one training session. But teachers cannot expect to be able to use the Interactive Whiteboard without experimenting with it on their own time.  The best way we learn how to use a new technology is through experimenting.

School administrators need to provide teachers with better training, and teachers need to be more committed to learning how to use the tools provided to them.  Research has shown that using technology is the key to educating the students of today.  So, as teachers, we are obligated to make sure we are prepared to teach in such a way.

Below is the link to the article.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Whiteboards for Dummies and YouTube Education Channels

The article "Whiteboards for Dummies" was very interesting because I did not know that there was that many things you could do with an interactive whiteboard.  The teacher in the article plays a game with his students where they get to throw a koosh ball at the board and then questions pop up when they hit certain objects.  He uses this to help them with their vocab words.  I think this is a great way for his students to actively learn in his classroom.  It makes learning fun and interactive and the technology is used to it's full potential.  Sometimes technology can hinder the learning process if it is used incorrectly, and this activity definitely does the opposite.  The students get more engaged because this is a complete new way of learning their vocab words other than the standard way of  writing them down and defining them.   The students get to associate images with the words and get asked questions about each word.  The article also addresses the  fact that technology is only as good as it's user.  This is a great point because if a teacher does not know how to use a piece of technology well, they will not be able to use it to its full potential.  It directly speaks to the issue of school districts not having enough training opportunities for their teachers about new technology.  Teachers may get an interactive whiteboard and never use it because they do not get properly trained.  The biggest obstacle is making sure the technology is helping the students learn, not hindering them, and this is where workshops come in.

The second article lists the top twelve YouTube education channels for teachers and students.  It lists channels for all age groups and provides three or four channels for each.  I chose to look at the K-12 section, focusing on the ones that are more for high school and middle school.  The two listed were Space Lab and Khan Academy.  Space Lab is filled with great videos talking about many aspects of space.  It provides updates about the space world and they address the rumors about space happenings.  I think this would be a great channel for students to use for projects since it has so much valuable information.  Khan Academy is the next channel that I looked at.  I have used Khan Academy before to help with my homework and I think it is a great channel.  Sal Khan does a great job teaching how to solve certain problems and I think this is a great resource for students.  There are an extreme amount of videos to choose from and I think students really benefit from his videos.