## Reflections 2016-17

Part 1:

Wow! It seems like the year goes by faster the older I get. I ran into one of my former students today. He was servicing my car. I didn’t recognize him at first, but he recognized me and asked me if I taught him in 8th grade. I hadn’t taught 8th grade Math in 10 years, and he looked way too young to have been my student from back then, so we talked some more. Yes, he was a student in my class at Canyon Vista Middle School. When he said his name, Patrick, I suddenly remembered everything about him. I was so surprised to hear that he was 26 and has a family – a wonderful wife and 2 children. One of his kids is a second grader in a nearby district.

Without any prompting, he began to tell me about his experience in my class. He said that before that year with me, he hadn’t really ever liked mathematics. For some reason, he didn’t mind coming to math class with me where before he always dreaded it. He said I made class fun, but not like silly or childish fun. He started realizing that he could do mathematics and think like a mathematician. I chuckled because I remembered always saying that!! He remembered that one of the students in class accidentally called me “mama” instead of Mrs. Payne. They all got a big kick out of that so from then on I was known as Mama Payne. Word spread and eventually all of my students were calling me Mama Payne. I hadn’t heard that in a while, so I was quite pleased we were having this conversation. This name continued on through the next year until I transferred to a school closer to my home. What a privilege it was to teach Patrick and for him to have such a positive outlook on his experience in my class – all that growth mindset work and positive messages I “forced” on my students really did pay off. He said he became more curious about mathematics in the world around him. From then on, he wasn’t afraid of math and did well in high school and college courses. He said he went to college for a year to be a HVAC repairmen. He liked the money, but didn’t really enjoy his work. He does like working with his hands (and he held his greasy hands high with a big smile). He now works on cars and motors and loves his job. He beamed when he was telling me this.

He still uses math in this job, but it’s not school math or test questions. It’s the real world. He has to give quotes, use coupons, order and figure percents on parts, use equipment that gives him data – sounded like great mathematics to me!! Our conversation also brought back memories of the struggle I had with the math standards back then. I really didn’t want to teach “school mathematics” that my students only used in math class. I wanted them to have a broader version of mathematics and to have joy in exploring their own ideas about math. I loved those TextTeam and Connected Mathematics contextual problems and used and adapted them a lot. What’s even more evident as I reflect on the decisions I made in his class, I’m so grateful that I chose to do absolutely not one single minute of ‘test prep’ with my students. His daily work with mathematics is a lot like the types of things we did back in his 8th grade class. He’s happy with his life and comfortable with the math he encounters daily. I was happy with the math he did with my bill – he only charged me for 5 quarts of oil when he really used 6.5. I also got $10 off of the total which this company gives to all teachers. His coworker managed the register and took my payment. He looked me in the eye and said he wishes his 8th grade math teacher would come by for a visit. He wants to show him that he actually turned out to be a good citizen as he said he was an awful student and was in trouble all the time!! He added that he probably spent more time at the principal’s office than in class!.

I sat down this evening while I was thinking about Patrick, and I thought of all of the 25,000 or so students in our elementary schools in my district. Am I helping their teachers see joy in mathematics and providing resources for them to help their students see math as something beautiful? Do the teachers see math as beautiful or do they see math as a checklist of skills, non-related, that have to be checked off before the end of the year? Even more broadly, are we all giving our students rich experiences in all subject areas? I may focus on mathematics, but that’s just a small part of the school day. Is the work I’m doing in my job as a math specialist leading them in the right direction? I sure hope so, and I believe it is true.

The hardest part for me is to reach all 1200 or so elementary teachers – to ensure they all hear the message. We believe in rich mathematics – student inquiry, vibrant discussions and debates, open questions, constructed meaning – that type of mathematics that is based on student discovery and sense-making. Could I affect their world and make relationship building and curiosity the focus? I still see and hear stories about students that have spent the year in boring test prep – prepping them to see such a narrow view of mathematics as just “getting the answer”, check, and then moving on to the next multiple choice question – check. That’s in my district – and I’m very sad for those students. It’s even more devastating to think that teachers who know better are really scared about their scores so they do this type of preparation so that their students pass the test. Again, just like going down a checklist. I don’t want that type of mathematics in our district. It’s not equitable – some kids get a rich fuller experience with mathematics and some kids don’t based on one test during the year. That creates a version of mathematics that students usually dislike. The problem is real to the teachers in this situation as they know that results matter most.They are doing the best they can. I want to tell them that we’ve got their back – teach our way and your scores will still be great!! It’s hard to convince them to try something else when they’ve had success with this test-prep style of teaching. This might be just success for the test – memorizing and test prepare them for a test – not mathematics and not necessarily the mathematics they need for continuation of study next year.

Most damaging is that student can often get pretty high scores on the state test doing just this – yearlong test taking prep. “Aren’t high scores what you’re looking for” someone might say. Yes, but no – not this way. They send student homework home as packets of problems – so they believe that having students work through these means “you’ll get good at math”,right? – not really. What they might actually be getting good at is taking a test – a 2 hour or so test that happens only once a year. For teachers that are scared or ones that really just don’t know the difference, they see the “checklist” way of teaching as their only hope and as the only way to guarantee good scores.

I think about Patrick’s class and whether or not I made sure that my students understood the mathematics in their standards – did they learn the math in their standards without test prep materials? You betcha!! However, the way I went about it looked nothing like test prep. They were held accountable. Did my students do well on the state test? Thankfully yes!! About 140 of my 144 students did pass and the advanced score was really high – like 65 percent of my students got the advanced level without any test prep materials.

Part 2:

Seeing Patrick made me think of reflecting about my work this year. Today was the first day of a 2-week vacation – then the new year starts – 2017-18. This year has been a year of new endeavors and experiences for me as a professional. Here are a few of the highlights:

- Math Rocks – this year was so incredible in many ways.
- We introduced a new book to our cohort. When I first read it myself the year before, I would stop and say (sometimes in my brain but often aloud), “This is how I believe. This is how I teach.” Wow – we have to use these ideas on our math website to define how math should be in our district. I want every school leader and any one making decisions about mathematics education in RRISD to read this book”. The winner for our book study was none other than
*Principles to Action – Ensuring Mathematics Success for All*– published by NCTM.- Establish mathematics goals to focus learning.
- Implement tasks that promote reasoning and problem solving.
- Use and connect mathematical representations
- Facilitate meaningful mathematical discourse.
- Pose purposeful questions.
- Build procedural fluency from conceptual understanding.
- Support productive struggle in learning mathematics.
- Elicit and use evidence of student thinking.

- We introduced a new book to our cohort. When I first read it myself the year before, I would stop and say (sometimes in my brain but often aloud), “This is how I believe. This is how I teach.” Wow – we have to use these ideas on our math website to define how math should be in our district. I want every school leader and any one making decisions about mathematics education in RRISD to read this book”. The winner for our book study was none other than

No where in the list do you see test prep. Will these practices provide experiences for students that they can use when they take that test? Most certainly yes!!

More to come…..