Tuesday, May 26, 2015

End-of-Year Teacher Reflections on IMP Meaningful Math Algebra

I have been challenged by Brian Lawler to answer the same End-of-Year Reflection questions that my students answered. He reworded them a little and I am going to paste them into this blog and answer them. They are all very thought-provoking!

1. How was this experience "teaching mathematics" different from your previous work teaching mathematics?  How was the math itself different? Did you learn the mathematics differently?

This teaching experience has been different in numerous ways. First, I have never taught a curriculum that had unit problems or "themes." Having a context for almost every algebra topic that I taught this year truly did make the subject more meaningful to my students. Secondly, the tasks are written in a way that students are given the opportunity to discuss and "struggle" with the problems even if they do not initially understand the math behind it. The teacher's guides always provide you with great "leading questions" that help you to guide your students to discovering the math without you just saying, "This is how you do this problem. Write it down." Having the teacher's guides AND having seen this style of teaching at AMSTI training were huge helps for teaching this curriculum the way the authors intended (or at least close to the way it was intended to be taught). We also received training from It's About Time in which we were able to go through many of the activities as "students."

When going through the training as a student (at AMSTI and It's About Time training) I was reminded often to quit thinking like a teacher. I think that one piece of advice was one of the most helpful. At first I would only see the training from a teacher's perspective and I would be worried about what formula I should use to solve the problems. As I taught this curriculum I have realized that the students are asked to use common sense, repeated patterns, and the context in order to solve the problems. The formulas can also be used (and taught, of course!) but when a student is taught to totally rely on formulas and then they get on the ACT (or other standardized test) and forget the formulas they don't have the problem-solving experiences that will help them to persevere and be successful.

This is my 2nd year to teach the entire year with my students sitting in groups of 4. Although I had already taught with students grouped last year, the majority of the year the only function the groups had were that my students could check to see if they had the same answer on a problem and help each other if someone was confused. This year the IMP Meaningful Math Curriculum provided my students with opportunities to utilize group work in a whole new way. The problems were presented in such a way that the students would start discussing their ideas on the best way to solve the problem. Sometimes a few of them would work quietly until they felt like they had an idea to share with the group. Other times they would sit there and talk about it before they tried to put pencil to paper. The exciting thing was that the groups this year were used for actual mathematical discussions about how to solve problems.

I think what I "learned differently" was that the students will really and truly try different approaches to solving problems if you give them the freedom. When I used to stand at the board and show them how to do a particular type of problem that is the way they did it. However, I have seen multiple times this year that if I give them a task and then give them the opportunity to figure it out on their own (with the support of their group members) they will solve it with various approaches that make better sense to them. I use to teach them the way that I thought was best. This year has taught me that struggling math students do not interpret and work through a problem in the same way that an algebra teacher does!

2. How have you changed personally as a result of your experience? Has your confidence in your own ability grown? How has your experience of working with math-teacher colleagues changed?

I had a day or two that I would kind of go back into my "old teacher" mode and stand at the board doing examples and "giving notes." I would actually stand there and think that I was boring myself to death! HAHA! I have learned a new way to teach that is much more engaging. I do not want to go back to my "old teacher" mode again.

My confidence in my ability to teach math has grown. I have always been a confident math student. I was good at math and so I wanted to be a math teacher. In the past I believed that math was something that some students were gifted at and others were not. The way this curriculum is written gives students more than random "number crunching" in math class. This is a problem-based curriculum in which they are constantly applying the math within a context that gives it a purpose. Using this curriculum literally helped me to reach students that had failed my class in previous years because of lack of interest.

I am blessed to be a part of a terrific team of math teachers at Etowah High School. Sonya New and Gary Webb were also implementing this algebra curriculum. Sonya and I were able to discuss our lessons on a daily basis because we had the same planning period. It was harder to have discussions with Gary but we did have lunch with the entire math department so we were able to talk to him some during lunch. I do not believe we would have been as successful without the opportunity to collaborate and learn from each other.

I also reached out to other IMP teachers via email and Twitter throughout this year. I have found so many helpful teachers who have shared their teaching ideas and resources.

3. What are your mathematics-teaching goals for next year? How have those goals changed over the past year and why?

My main goal is to keep improving. There are many times I felt that I was blindly going through the curriculum this year. I would sometimes hesitate to introduce a particular "math formula" because I didn't want to "steal the thunder" of a future lesson. There are so many concepts that the curriculum kind of allows the student to develop his/her own understanding instead of a teacher just telling them how to perform the problem using a formula or particular process. Another goal I have is I want to do a better job teaching my students how to present their work next year!

My goal of teaching students to present their work is different because the types of tasks that they do in this curriculum are different. For example - If a student is asked to solve a system of equations where they are already given the 2 equations there is not a lot to discuss. They can go to the board and tell the class the method they chose (substitution, elimination or graphing) and then work it out. In the IMP curriculum the students would be given a scenario in which they have to write their own equations and then solve the system. They would have the opportunity to discuss how they assigned their variables, wrote the equations, solved the problems mathematically, and verified that the solution was viable within the context. There is so much more to discuss!