What an auspicious beginning to my day with this cup of coffee!
Another beautiful day in the mountains began with sharing over breakfast – swapping school stories (good, bad and humorous) with teachers from different cities, and different types of schools. The underlying commonality we share includes being committed to improving our practice regardless of our length of service, and giving our students, thus, a better experience in the classroom. It is clear from talking to my colleagues that our desire to help our students goes beyond their understanding of mathematics, although this is the key we use.
Our morning problem-solving session felt more comfortable today; the sequence of the daily questions not only builds on ideas in each set, but also hearkens back to emerging patterns from that of yesterday. I was again reminded that the personal adjustment period in our experience mirrors the same phenomenon in our classrooms. I discovered that another teacher at my table felt a discomfort similar to mine with respect to the different speeds and work habits of everyone at the table, and knowing that, felt more comfortable. How often have I told my students not to be afraid to ask questions because if they have a question, at least one other student, and probably more, has the same one.
We ‘observed’ a Calculus class in today’s Reflection on Practice, examining student response, participation, and body language as the teacher led them through a problem solution. We sympathized with the silent girl in the video who we all felt was lost in the exercise but clearly didn’t feel safe or comfortable enough to voice any of her confusion or ask any questions. We collectively cringed when the teacher asked, “does everyone understand?”, knowing full well that a student who didn’t understand was unlikely to admit that in a room full of peers who apparently did. As we worked at our tables to craft questions that would probe and push student understanding, I thought how much easier it was to do this exercise with another colleague at a workshop but perhaps not quite so simple on my feet in the classroom.
Although the specific objectives are a little unclear in my afternoon group – creating an online Geometry course for teachers, my partner Irene and I had a blast exploring as many possibilities as we could in reflecting a line segment, so much so that we found it difficult to stop when we were told to take a break. Irene is a 6th grade teacher, and I love how her style, which is well-suited to the explorations her students need to make in learning this content for the first time, illuminates my own. It forces me to be more methodical in my approach, which I can see is necessary for my own high school students, many of whom may not recall the content well from middle school or who may not have mastered it at that time.
The special treat of the afternoon was a session with Bill McCallum, one of the authors of the Common Core State Standards in mathematics. Bill walked us through the re-design of the Illustrative Mathematics website, and tried to answer our questions about the implementation of the Common Core standards and curricular resources. He is an eloquent and engaging speaker, although the theme that the standards are not curriculum seemed to emerge after every question or two. From a teacher’s perspective (if I may be so bold to speak for some of my colleagues as well as myself), the implementation of the new standards, especially at the high school level, is hampered by a lack of choice in curricular resources that are fully aligned and easily usable. [Note: I use the word ‘easily’ because while engageny.org clearly has fully developed rigorous curriculum for Algebra 1 through PreCalculus, many teachers find the organization of the materials challenging, and the scope of each lesson ambitious for most classrooms.] The frustrations that were surfaced through this session, however, serve as action points for teachers seeking solutions for their classrooms and students. We were exhorted by the inspiring Gail Burrill to advocate for change, particularly around creating support for students who begin to fall behind in elementary school. I left this optional session feeling ready to tilt at a few windmills.
The day finished with something New Yorkers love to do – shop in a supermarket outside of New York City! The Riddley’s in Midway was not only spacious and filled with all manner of comestibles not frequently seen in my local grocery store, but also had some 4th of July treats. Interestingly, everyone we met knew we were with “the math group.” Huh!