How to Create Positive Math Experiences

In my last post I shared that we need to create positive math experiences for students.  (Especially girls.) Whether you are a parent or a teacher, this post is for you! Here are some simple things to start doing with your students and/or your own children. I even have two freebies for you to download and get started!

  • Use positive language about math.  Instead of saying, “I hate math.” “I wasn’t good at math.” or “I’m not good at math.”  Try saying, “Math is challenging.” “Sometimes I don’t know the answers either.” “Math makes my brain think.”
  • Ask questions. “What do you already know that can help you get started on this math problem?” Often times by asking this, students/children will start to feel less anxious because you’ve shifted to what they do know. “Can you draw a picture to help you?” “Tell me what you notice.” Historically talking and visualizing have not been associated with math, however they are the foundation for understanding math.  Most students/children have an easier time talking about what they notice in numbers, patterns, and visuals such as graphs and charts before they’re ready to put a pencil to paper.
  • Use Pictures and Visuals. Let’s think about this example; small children, let’s say around age 2 begin pointing at and naming things because that’s what they know how to do, but imagine you show the word “dog”, spelled out, to a 2 year old and ask her, “What is that?” The answers you’d get are incorrect, and possibly even blank stares. Letters and numbers are symbols in the language of mathematics. It’s like a foreign language.  However, show a child a picture of a dog, such as the one below, and you will likely get answers such as; dog, wolf, cat, animal. All of those are at least in the ballpark! Somehow once students hit school-age the general expectation (not always) is for them to have all the language and vocabulary to start putting things on paper, or in symbolic form (letters & numbers). IMG_0681There is a very good reason that children and students are “chatty” when they are learning! It’s developmentally appropriate at any age, and it’s how we make sense of what we are learning.

 

  • Play Games There are many games,  (I will share more specifics in a later post), but board games, memory games, matching games, strategy games, puzzles all develop mathematical skills that children aren’t even aware they are learning because they’re having so much fun playing the game. Play

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Counting Activities by Age (1)

_Counting Game (1)

Homework: To Help or Not to Help

Math in 2017 looks very different than it did when most of us of parental age were in school. And when the Common Core State Standards came about, many misconceptions started circulating, especially on the web, and social media. Unfortunately, it became a very ill conversation. Even in the education field, there  have been misconceptions. However, the more professional development and the more we learn and know, the better we can serve the children.

As an instructional coach, one of the most challenging things  teachers share with me is that parents are telling/showing students to do the math the way the parents knew how to.  No fault of parents, that’s what they know. From a teacher’s perspective, it’s really hard to undo a “quick” or “fast” procedure (such as borrowing, which is really regrouping in education) My response to teachers has been 1) Don’t send homework home. 2) Homework should be review of skills already mastered. or 3) Send examples (either a quick video or written) home with students so parents know what you’re expectations are.

As parents, we all want to help our children. When it comes to homework of any subject, we need first, not to panic. If homework time is creating stress, there is no learning or remembering happening. And the connection between parent and child is stressed. (No need for that).

What should you do if your child has math homework? How do you decide if you should help or not help?  Is it reasonable to ask parents to know all kinds of math and how to teach it?  The answer to that last question is absolutely not!

Here are a few things to consider when deciding to help or not to help with math homework (or any subject for that matter!)

  1. Is it a good time to tackle this? Are there other things distracting you? Can you give your child attention on this right now?
  2. How does this subject matter/assignment make you feel? How does it make your child feel?
  3. Do you have the background knowledge on what your child is learning in order to help?
  4. Is there someone else that might be better suited to help?

Sometimes students are penalized for incomplete homework, I don’t agree with this. However if you think your child will be penalized, then communicate with the teacher. Give a quick call to give the teacher a heads up that your child’s homework is incomplete. Send an email or a handwritten note attached to the homework.  Ask questions to better understand the teacher’s expectations.

COMMUNICATION  is the key!  Children deserve it!

Communication

 

How does math make you feel?

MATH. The mere mention of that word to so many individuals causes convulsions, nightmares, and feelings of failure to arise.  I know plenty of adults, even children who have struggled with reading and somehow they grow up, and they READ.  Because you can’t live without reading, right?! What is it about math that makes so many uncomfortable?

Before becoming an instructional coach, I had many of those same feelings about math, utter failure. As a student of mathematics, I was considered a failure because I couldn’t memorize everything and produce answers quickly.  I will own that label because I’m not successful with those criteria. However, as an adult of everyday, real-life mathematics, I problem solve, I look for unknowns, and I try to make sense of what is presented to me.  Is math merely a set of rules and procedures to pass a test, or is it BIGGER than that?

The theme of the SCCTM Fall Conference which I attended about a week ago was, Teaching the Big Ideas, Seeing Beyond Today’s Lesson. IT.WAS.SO.REFRESHING. I am inspired and hopeful that we will continue to improve math education after learning from some great math educators who share my belief that math is for EVERYONE! We just have to change our conversations.

At the closing session (Don’t worry, I’ll be posting about others), the speaker, Lauren Stott, shared this quote:

“If you’ve ever had a student say they hate math…They really hate how they feel in math class.” Cristen Grey, Railside High Student

BOOM!  That’s it. We learn through our feelings and experiences. If our experiences with math make us feel like failures, then it sticks. When we have positive experiences, those feelings stick too. So, let’s get to work and make math more positive for all of our students! 

(Look for my next post with some ways to make math a more positive experience.)

Parenting Books

It was tough deciding what to write about this morning. Initially I wanted to share more about my SCCTM conference experience last week. (Don’t worry, it’s coming soon) Then as I lay awake last night listening to the Roomba vacuum downstairs, I thought I’d share some of my favorite parenting resources, because you might have time over the Thanksgiving weekend to read. (wink, wink) Or you might at least have time to check them out for yourself and see if they appeal to you.

When I was pregnant I didn’t want to read anything about child birth or parenting. I was reading plenty for my Masters program.  Then when my daughter turned one year, it’s like I went on this hunt for the best way to parent. Ha-ha, that was funny! I mean for the first year of her life, I literally, we, my husband and I were winging it! Well, that’s really what we’re doing all the time as parents, isn’t it? Being the avid reader and research nerd that I am I started reading parenting books. Some I didn’t even finish, others I am now re-reading, and have pages tabbed so I can use them as quick reference. A few I stumbled upon on Facebook, others were recommend by friends.  There is NO manual, (wouldn’t that be nice), raising humans is like a puzzle, you have to find the right fit for your family. And that fit changes as more pieces are added.

Here are my favorite parenting books thus far in my journey:

This book is great if you feel like you’ve got to be the perfect parent, (there’s no such thing), because Katie gives practical tips for getting to know your child’s personality. Her writing makes you feel like you’re having coffee with a friend, rather than getting advice from an expert. I’m looking forward to getting started on her latest book, No More Mean Girls!

This book is PURE comic relief at the end of long days when you think, “What in the world were we thinking becoming parents?” It got my husband and I through those days as we would read it together and laugh until tears were rolling down our cheeks. When you’re feeling alone, this book makes you realize you’re not.

This is another one that my husband and I read together. It helped us discuss our differences in opinion about “discipline”. As an educator this book resonated with my coaching/teaching beliefs in that it is our job to love them, while letting them experience mistakes to help them learn.

What works for one child/family, doesn’t always work for another, and the more we share our real experiences, the less we will fear being the imperfect parent.

What are some of your favorite parenting books or resources?

 

Aspire to Inspire, Let the Rest Go!

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Achieving balance through the why and the how. 

This post was inspired by my former colleagues, a friend, and my participation today at the South Carolina Council of Teachers of Mathematics  Conference (a.k.a. #SCCTM2017). My passion for change in our education system continues to be ablaze. My friend and I submitted a proposal to present at the conference on a topic that we believe is empowerment for students, teachers, and parents. Our session Unleashing the Mathematical Potential for ALL, was designed to inspire changing mindsets and beliefs about math and learning math.  Some days, I think my purpose in life is to inspire changing those negative, deficit-oriented mindsets about math by telling my own story of my journey through mathematics.  Other days I think my purpose is to inspire a love of learning in teachers and students. That’s really broad though. Sometimes, you just have to aspire to inspire, enjoy the journey, and let the rest go!

If you’re thinking that a conference full of math teachers would be boring. I get it, I used to be one of those thinkers. Our thinking is based on our experiences. Math is absolutely not about perfection, contrary to popular, general beliefs that it’s all about the right answer, it’s actually creative, messy, and full of beautiful, problems puzzles, if we open our minds to think differently. I encourage you to read Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler if you’re willing to give math a second chance.

Note to Parents and Teachers:  I’m also here to support you when you’re ready to explore teaching math differently, and /or understanding the math your child is learning.  Contact me, I’m happy to help!

 

Changing Our Conversations

This post is an open letter to educators, parents, and any individual who wants to see our education system and our world improve.

My passion is learning and education. I became a teacher almost twenty years ago, not for the love of a subject, not for summers off, but for a love of learning. Learning is a process. It is a way of life. It is not a destination you reach at the end of a term, the end of a year, or at the end of the 12th grade as our society perceives. Learning is a life long process. If we stop learning, we stop growing. Great teachers and parents inspire that love in children of all ages. Some even inspire that love in other adults. Our current education climate and culture is killing this love of learning though, and WE have to work together to change that!

As a recovering perfectionist, I can say this, we need to relax and calm down about education. In other words, we need to get fired up about more important issues in education. The culture of achievement and measuring success in one way isn’t getting us any further than we were 10 or 20 years ago. Teachers, students and parents are more unhappy, more stressed out, and less satisfied than ever. Heck, the general public is more unhappy, stressed out, and less satisfied. We’ve done it to ourselves, and it’s time we change the conversations we’re having with one another. (If you’re not having conversations with one another, then start, and I don’t mean only on social media!)

As long as I’ve been in education, the system has operated on deficits, rather than finding strengths and taking action from the strengths. This is part mindset, part culture. I didn’t start recovering from my perfectionist ways until I sat down and had an honest conversation with myself, and reflected on all my strengths. Many of you know this is how we begin to heal, but it’s also how we start to change our patterns.

What if as parents and teachers we change our conversations with one another, and with our children/students to sound more like this:

“What is going well? What are the strengths? What progress has been made? How can we build on these strengths to improve the areas that need some work?”

Parents, don’t be afraid to share your child’s strengths with teachers. They want that, even if they forget to ask about it. (Stress can do that to the brain.)

Teachers, don’t be afraid to ask students what they feel they are good at. They want us to ask. And many don’t know because all they’ve heard are what they aren’t good at.

If we all make a conscious effort to change our conversations, we can change our culture and our education system for the better. Please bring joy back to learning!

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Joyful learning doesn’t have to end at the age of 4 or 5! 

 

Fear is not a reason NOT to!

Over the past 3 days I have had multiple situations where I could have let fear get in the way of taking action. In fact, for a few brief moments, fear did tap me on the shoulder. The stakes weren’t super high, so I told fear to go away!

One situation was an opportunity to take on a small work opportunity that was completely out of my comfort zone.  My head told me to say no, and my heart told me to say yes.  My husband who is my sounding board, said, “I’ll support you and we’ll make it work whichever you decide.”  Argh, the sweet sounds that every perfectionist hates to hear sometimes. Which was proof that while my husband didn’t know the outcome, he believed in me and us, and supported me if it was something I really wanted to do. I said yes, and I told myself I could do it for 4 weeks. I also told myself that while I wouldn’t be the perfect middle school teacher, I would be someone to consistently show up for the students, and I’d do my best.  End result they didn’t need me to take that long term sub job, but I’m so glad I was open to and willing.

Another situation was reaching out to someone I know and respect, but don’t know very well. I had an idea I wanted to pitch, and felt that this individual would have some really powerful insight. I highly respect her work.  I reached out, and the response was positive. Even better was that this individual was willing to give me some of her time, shared her insights, and encouraged me even more to go after what I want!  Again, I had no idea what the outcome would be, but I believe in this person, and she inspired me to believe in myself. She also was the inspiration for the title of this post! *Side note, as I went to leave Starbucks, I thought I could go out the back door, and I set off the emergency exit alarm.  I laughed. I apologized. And I’m okay.

This afternoon as my daughter was swinging, I asked her, “Are you afraid of anything? Is there anything you fear?”  She said, “Nope. I’m smart, I’m brave. and I’m strong.”  I bought her PJs that state that, and I tell her to be smart, be brave, and be strong.  So it’s time to start modeling that her mommy is smart, brave, and strong and isn’t afraid to follow her heart! (Post soon about that!)

Changing Our Expectations

As I’ve reflected on my role as a  parent and as an educator there is a recurring theme of trying to be perfect. When I used to be in the classroom full-time, I was always trying to have the perfect lesson plan. As I let that go, I found that my students helped me make my lesson plans better. When I came out of the classroom and became an instructional coach, initially I was looking for perfection in my coaching points. Always asking, “What will give this teacher the most bang for their buck?” I didn’t let go of that, because that wasn’t really looking for perfection, that was looking for greatest impact. While I’m working part-time right now as a substitute teacher, I’ve seen students get very upset when things aren’t “perfect”, it’s breaks my heart, but it also makes me want to do something about it. There is no reason for these children to suffer a lifetime of perfect expectations, just because the adults raising them did. I firmly believe what Maya Angelou says, “When we know better, we do better.”  As a parent, I don’t always have a plan, and I’m okay with that. My desire for my daughter is to just have a great day, and when the day isn’t so great, I use my coaching skills to help her find the good in her day, as well as help her accept the imperfect moments.  While I know that right now while she’s only 4 years old, her dad and I play a big part in how her day goes. But what about when she’s older? She needs to be able to see imperfections and learn from mistakes on her own. She needs to be able to bounce back and be resilient, not perfect.

What I’m wondering right now is how can educators and parents let go of their expectations for perfection, whether for themselves or the children, in order to help children become resilient? 

Is our current education system developing little perfectionists with all of the awards and recognition for “perfect test scores”?

 

Why?

This is the post excerpt.

IMG_4671“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”-Ghandi  This is my favorite quote and it has been for most of my adult life.

Have you ever asked yourself, “Why am I doing this?”  Yep, about 2 years ago I asked myself that question, and continued to ask it A.TON.MORE . I had just finished my Masters degree, and thought I knew what my next move would be in my career. But then, I had this new little family at home that I felt tugging on my heart.  I knew I couldn’t live the life I wanted to live if we continued on auto pilot everyday. As my career kept demanding more of me, I was becoming even more passionate to be a better wife, mom, and a better person overall. I felt like in the two and a half years of getting my advanced degree and starting a family, I’d lost my true self.  Then one day about six months ago, BOOM! It hit me over the head, I couldn’t keep living this way, but I had this  perception of myself that I thought I had to keep doing what I’d always been doing. Work fulltime, be a wife and mom, do it ALL with a big ole smile on my face. For what? It was a self-inflicted pressure to be perfect. I grew up loathing the word perfect (I’ll save that for another post), because at my core I never believed in perfect, but at forty-something I found myself trying to live up to it. Six months ago, I vowed to let it go. I call myself a recovering perfectionist because I know the tendencies are still in there, and while I don’t bury them, I do consciously and intentionally make small changes everyday to find more joy, and work on being the change I wish to see.