by Connie Rivera
A participant in a recent training told us that she felt overwhelmed by being given so much new information during the course and not knowing where to start. It made me remember the presentation and activity where I was first exposed to math as “understanding and making connections” rather than “memorizing and following the rules”. It hit me like a powerful wind that blew me off course. It made me look at a whole new, colorful view of the world that I’d never noticed. Once I realized that there was another way, I was overwhelmed thinking about everything I needed to change. I felt like now that I knew a better way, I should be using it in every classroom moment. But, as with other resolutions, it wasn’t realistic of me to think I could change all at once.
I went back to class and taught that same activity to my students and watched them have the same ah-ha moment I had experienced as a participant in that session. I loved the feeling of watching my students make connections so much that I included that activity in my instruction every semester for years. Meanwhile, there were still many other topics I was teaching with the passive approaches I had been shown as a student because it was the only way I knew. But I still wanted to find out all I could about this “understanding and making connections” way. I participated in more professional development. I began to think about “Why?” when I was planning my lessons, so I looked far and wide to find resources to answer that question. Slowly, I collected more great ideas and incorporated those. Each time I did, it crowded out those passive lessons and the workbooks of empty procedures and tricks I used to rely on.
Whether the change worth making is weight loss, the couch to a half marathon, or learning to teach conceptually, complex changes don’t happen all at once. On any of those journeys, the important thing is to START. Commit to changing one thing, and then do it again every semester.
What will your One Thing (every semester) be? Here are some ideas:
- Ask students, “How do you know?” when they give an answer.
- Make sure all students participate and that when they do, they say a second sentence. Complex reasoning isn’t shared with others in just one sentence.
- Teach a new, powerful activity that exposes misconceptions and makes connections.
- Teach one new concept for understanding.
- Spend time getting comfortable using a new tool (square inch tiles, area models, pattern blocks, snap cubes, etc.) and try an activity with them in your class.
- Find the math in one every-day activity and begin from there rather than from a workbook.
Connie Rivera teaches numeracy skills to adults of various skill levels, including court-involved youth and English Language Learners. She is also a math consultant, providing math strategies and support to programs implementing the College and Career Readiness (CCR) Standards for Adult Education in Connecticut and Massachusetts. As a consultant for the SABES numeracy team, Connie facilitates trainings and guides teachers in curriculum development. Connie is President-elect of the Adult Numeracy Network and a LINCS national trainer for math and numeracy.