Math is an adventure. Challenging. Beautiful. Surprising. Creative.
But it hasn’t always been this way. In school Math was fickle. My well developed memorization skills lulled me into a false sense of security through repeated algorithms and proofs, only to be dashed into tears by the nonsense of it all. My sense of reasoning, which flew in 15 directions at once, didn’t fit with the Math ‘logic’ that always led to the one answer I could never come up with. The dry and unrelatable language of the word problems in algebra class refused to become the tables they were mandated to be by my teachers and textbooks. I did ok. I was SMART and I developed coping mechanisms. I survived Math all the way up to Grade 12 A.P., but I did not love it. I did not even like it.
In university I took a double major in English Literature and Anthropology, staying as far away from a Math classroom as I could get. At the end of my undergraduate degree, I decided to apply for the teaching program. I was only missing one requirement: A first year Math class. I took a Math credit in the summer that was designed for students going into teaching…and for the first time in my life, I understood WHY we carry the one and what borrowing actually meant. A small glimmer appeared that there might be more to Math than memorization. Math might have meaning. But I did not love Math.
I finished my teaching degree and got a classroom of my own almost right away. It was a grade 3/4 inner city classroom. It was tough and I struggled, not just in Math, but everywhere. I persevered. I got better at communicating with parents, at teaching cross-curricularly, at integrating my own passions into my teaching, so that I could share excitement with my students. I got better in all areas but one. I did not get better at teaching Math. I dreaded it. I felt like a failure. Too many of my students needed help. The SMART ones got bored. The NOT SMART ones gave up. Both groups acted out. Standing at the front of the room, I could not figure out how to help my students who did not learn like me, who could not just memorize and get on with it. Because, you see, I did not understand Math. I did not love Math. I loathed it. I feared it.
So, I embarked on a journey. It started with a question: How can I help all of my students be successful in my Math classroom? The road was long. My students helped me. They taught me about the importance of community and building trust. They taught me about their power to help each other and to explain things in ways I never thought of. They taught me that I didn’t need to be afraid of not knowing all the answers. For over 10 years I have been on this journey and the path has not been straight. There have been switchbacks, dead ends and tumbles, but as my understanding grew, so did my ability to understand how to help my students. And I started to like teaching Math. But I now know that I still did not love Math because it was still just classroom Math. It did not live anywhere else.
I am a lifelong learner and I’m never satisfied with status quo. Last year, I joined a book study of Tracy Zager’s book, Becoming The Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had. I had just started teaching at a new school and I was in a headspace to give it my all. I tried everything (almost) Tracy wrote about, I checked out every person, website and resource. I fired up my long dead Twitter account to enter the world of the #MTBoS. I read Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler and I found Youcubed, which introduced me to the world of visual Math. Visual Math!! Most importantly, I tried to understand the Math that I was teaching. I watched my students go from silent tentative shadows to engaged mathematicians, who could stretch a math activity for half a day. They questioned, reasoned and proved. They found math in architecture, dance and music. And we loved it. Finally, I loved, not just teaching Math, but the Math itself.
Because Math is an adventure. Challenging. Beautiful. Surprising. Creative. And that is only the beginning…
It took me a long time to come to this place. It took time and it took effort, which, in itself, has value, but there is so much I have discovered that I wish I had before. Resources that could have helped my students. That could have helped me. So, I decided to make a website. A place to put all the things I have collected, so that if anyone ever asks me, I can start them on their own journey. I still have such a long way to go with mine, but I’m excited because now I am no longer fearful. I have moved beyond survival to play and curiosity. I’d love to have you join me, my grade 6 students, my children (in kindergarten and grade 2), my colleagues, my friends and anyone else who will give me 5 minutes to 3 hours of their time to just Math Around.
Yay, Jess! You pushed send! That’s awesome. So glad to learn with you. Keep it up! Tracy