The Next Step

5829426287_97719620a8_mYesterday I accepted a new position with my division.  Starting Friday, I’ll be the Vice Principal at Lindale, a K-8 school in our division.  I’m excited that I’ll be with kids everyday. I’m looking forward to the energy & enthusiasm, both mine & theirs. I’m also going to be teaching grade 6 & 8 math.  And it terrifies me.

Partially I’m struggling with how to come into a classroom that isn’t mine & start over, essentially. It’s not like I’ll be picking up where they left off. I only teach one way — an inquiry, pbl, tech-embedded classroom.  So we’re going to need to imagine, together, what learning can look like. We’ll need to unlearn a bit, and figure out what independent learning looks like in grade 6 & 8 because the truth is, I have no idea.

And then there are the questions. What if I can’t replicate what I’ve done in the past? I know I’ve created this environment for learning before and my kids thrived, but what if I can’t do it again?

Secondly, and likely most ironically, I was terrible at math in school. I hated math. It made me feel incompetent & unintelligent.  And as soon as I could stop taking math classes in school, I did. For many years, I thought of myself as someone who was not “a math person”, then I became a Chemistry teacher and realized I could probably do “normal” math.  The truth is, I still have no idea what the purpose of the Pythagorean theorem is, and now I’ll be teaching it.  How do you teach students to think mathematically, when I’m not sure I even think mathematically?

I’m incredibly thankful for serendipity & the network that I have. This morning I read Shannon Smith’s post Minds on Math.  And it’s helped me realize there are a number of things much larger going on in a math classroom.

Math is as much about identity as it is about math. This is especially true of middle school students who have such a fragile and confused identity to begin with.  While we learn math, I need to give my attention to how students construct their identity as someone who can solve problems and become numerically literate.

Secondly, I need to learn how to foster curiosity about problems, while helping kids think about their thinking and identify where they are struggling.   It’s about patterns & relationships and developing curiosity and understanding about them. In truth, I never thought about math like that in school. For me, it was about memorizing the equation.

Finally, it’s important that my students do a lot of the talking & discovering and I listen around the edges.

As a teacher, I know what it’s like to hate math & to struggle with it.  While I want my students to struggle, I want them to understand that struggling is good. It means your brain is trying to create synaptic connections & pathways are trying to mylenate. Beyond this, I want them to love learning. I do.  Even if it’s math.

About shelleywright

I love education & learning, which likely explains why I'm a teacher. My areas are ELA, Sr. sciences, and technology. My classroom is best described as a student-centred, tech embedded pbl/inquiry learning environment. Furthermore, I am Buck Institute for Education National Faculty member
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15 Responses to The Next Step

  1. Judy Bitton says:

    wow Shelley. I’m so happy for you! I could hear your enthusiasm in your writing and I envy the students who have such a teacher.
    wishing you lots of luck.

    Judy from Israel

  2. Your blog posts make me happy. Thanks for sitting and chatting with me for a bit today! 🙂

  3. rcantrell38 says:

    Shelley, I have enjoyed reading your postings the last couple of years. Please continue to share your experiences in the new position. Your love of kids and learning will provide you the extra needed to be successful in the classroom and in the office. I offer this advise: Stay out of the office as much as possible – management by walking around. As in the classroom, making connections and building relationship will be paramount.
    You continue to be an inspiration to educators around the globe. THANK YOU!

  4. sydney willcox says:

    Hello, It isn’t math but Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliet describes an inquiry based 6th grade classroom.
    Vermeer used the grid to make glorious light and proportions in his paintings.
    I am a high school art teacher using graphic design gridded rulers, X & + to divide space to communicate depth . This is applied math showing historical applications and uses various cultures have used to focus attention. I don’t know your state math standards but I suspect this may be one way to do inquiry in your new classes.
    good luck

    • Wow, that’s really interesting. I had no idea! I know that math is used everyday, and likely much more than we realize, for me it’s going through the process of making my brain shift to see that. Hard process! Thanks for the reminder 🙂

  5. David Wees says:

    Teaching math! How exciting! 🙂

    If you are looking for a place to start some professional development in math education, might I recommend checking out this reading list?

    Also, I recommend following #elemchat and #mathchat on Twitter as another great place to learn more about mathematics education. #mathchat is often focused on secondary level math, but not always.


  6. Jane Chadsey says:

    Shelley, thanks for putting forward your inner struggle with teaching math. I felt the same way as an elementary teacher and decided I needed to relearn the mathematics I was supposed to have learned in school. I did this through an amazing program called Math in the Mind’s Eye, published through the Math Learning Center in Portland Oregon. I began to “see” the mathematics rather than thinking it was in accessible to me. Congratulations on your new position. I’ll look forward to hearing about how it’s going!

  7. Hi Shelley,
    Your posts have inspired me as well. Please continue to share! I am sure you have seen Dan Meyer’s Ted X video, but I thought I’d pass it along just in case!

  8. mmebunker says:

    I was trained as a high school Music and French teacher and then got hired to teach grade seven four years ago. I was petrified of teaching Math because I also grew up with the belief that I would just never get it (and it didn’t help that my younger brother was a Math wiz). I understand your feelings of anxiety! However, over the past few years, I have grown to love teaching Math as it offers so many opportunities to connect learning to the real world and to solve real problems. I’m sure you will be amazing since you’ve already inspired so many others to explore inquiry based learning. Don’t approach Math any differently! it should be real, challenging, and fun. Good luck!

  9. Shelley,
    Hello from a swedish small town, called Sigtuna. Having read your blog, I was thinking of study by Pimperton, H. and Nation, K. (2010), “Understanding words, understanding numbers: An exploration of the mathematical profiles of poor comprehenders”. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 80. 255-268.- Hope you will find it interesting!

  10. Cam Matus says:

    As a teacher candidate and a student in ETAD470 at the University of Saskatchewan I can relate to the anxiety of teaching in a new classroom, and using an uncomfortable topic. That being said, math is one of my areas of teaching so I try my best to simply make the math interactive between students and it usually alleviates most of the stress. I’m also finding more resources for an online approach but my favourite so far has been The Khan Academy, Best of luck in your new class!

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