Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Aug 18 2010

How am I going to change math education?

Graduate school is starting. There are so many opportunities. For the first time I can remember I have more amazing opportunities than I can take on and I’m wondering how far to push myself and how my first semester will work out.

I started a new job as Upper School Math Community Leader on TFANET. It’s fantastic. I write posts about how to teach Calculus and Precalculus and answer new teacher questions. It’s just like Teachforus but I have to make sure that I don’t just ramble on to myself all day. I would love for all the new math teachers to login to TFANET and check out the online communities-there are a lot of great teachers really excited about them.

Writing to new teachers is pushing me to a whole new level of thinking. What is the most important things to prioritize when coming back to school? How can we collaborate? What can I give you and what must you learn for yourself? How to resources and assessments affect your practice.

This isn’t all of the changes in my life however. Graduate School. I’m working with Patrick Thompson, an absolutely brilliant man, in a Calculus group. It’s really awesome. Yesterday he asked us “how would you explain instantaneous speed before we had speedometers.” Great question. My job now(and it’s not going to be easy) is to attend these classes by one of the most brilliant math educators in the country and try to figure out what I can take from them to help brand new Calculus teachers across the country. I know that CM’s are superstars but they are also learning how to take attendance and keep a gradebook. What can I share with them about building deep understandings of Calculus? To what extent should I just help them manage their students behavior so that their life is a little less wild than mine was when I was in charge of those crazy freshman boys.

And if this wasn’t enough, I also got to work on Pathways to Precalculus this summer-a new textbook that I love. It has all of the questions that I wish my calculus students had known the answer to when they came to my class. I’m so excited to be working on the project as it is really fantastic and hopefully going to change Precalculus as we know it. And, not to be negative, but some things about that class just really need to be changed. It can come across as a disconnected dumping ground for mathematics that doesn’t make much sense or get used much in Calculus and there is really no reason it needs to be like that.

And then there are the math courses. Real Analysis. Abstract Algebra. I finally get to sit and be a student again. I’m so excited. I want to take everything. I want to see how mathematics fits together into a beautiful puzzle. I want to know why Analysis and Topology are connected. I want to finally take graph theory, combinatorics and complex analysis. I want to take more history of math and astronomy on the side.

Oh, and did I mention my bike? And making new friends?
If I’m happy enough maybe I can sustain this endless energy to do all of these things. Writing, writing writing. Thank goodness blogging is not nearly as difficult as crafting the perfect, concise and informative post for my content community. Each one is like a mini-essay on practices of good teaching and really forces me to analyze and reflect and research.

So what do I prioritize? I’m sitting here looking at my get settled at ASU to-do list trying to check off the “reflect on my goals so I can choose classes” part of the list. I care about math. I care about how it’s taught. I can see myself being a professor-I know I have what it takes to do it. I can also see myself being an entrepreneur in math education or doing research in education or coordinating math education for NCTM or a large district. I’m going to change something, but what I’m not sure and which classes and experiences I need to get there still seem like a giant haze.
Dr. Thompson asked me what my research interests were. I’m loving working on Precalculus curriculum and investigating what students are thinking in Calculus is also fascinating. I told him I’d prepare a less vague answer for the future. I could make up a long list of research interests.

How can we use online communities to support new teachers?
What is the affect of assessment questions on student learning and how can we improve the quality of assessments new teachers create?
What is the relationship between curriculum and professional development?
How do online applets affect student learning of Calculus and the concepts of rates of change and covariation?
Why do students confuse rules for multiplication versus rules for addition and how can we stop them?

Given that the teacher who worked with Dr. Thompson weekly still had trouble teaching conceptually do we have a more than a shot in the dark of actually helping teachers acquire meaningful understandings of mathematics? Are our dreams for classrooms full of students who think that math makes sense and teacher of mathematics who comprehend all of the concepts and connections far fetched? If we can’t do it with one on one help from a brilliant math educator what can we do. Of course when you look at the video you see students making sense of the material even when the teacher isn’t. Can we design questions and tasks and classroom environments that encourage students to make meanings even if their teachers don’t have them?

So my goals for the year:
1. Define some research interests that are narrow enough to allow me to graduate with a dissertation that is less than 300 pages long.
2. Ace my math courses.(well, at least pass them.)
3. Build a great online community and use that work to inform my research interests.
4. Soak up as much as possible from Dr. Carlson and Dr. Thompson as part of their research groups.
5. Ride my bike. Enjoy the sun. Meet some awesome new people and eat lots of vegetables.

Can I be excused? My brain is full.

7 Responses

  1. Tony Homan

    I’m glad to see that even with your new grad student life you are continuing your blog! I look forward to your insightful posts on math education, and what you are learning about teaching teachers.

    • Ms. Math

      Thanks tony! You should check out the content communities because I’m spending most of my time writing for them! I thought about copying and pasting posts over to here but they are not quite the right tone for a blog.

  2. wessie

    You’re making me so excited about teaching math! I was an almost-math-minor and I’m teaching Geometry in San Antonio. I can’t wait to get the hang of attendance and gradebooks (and the sophomore boys) so I can dive into all of this myself!

  3. Mr. Math

    You are a pretentious idiot

    • Ms. Math

      Hmm… I re read the post. Maybe in my enthusiasm about starting school I predicted I could do too much but it’s odd to be called pretentious. I’ve certainly failed plenty of times-it’s just that I finally feel like I’m in the right place and supported to do something with people who are making big differences. It’s not that I’m going to change math ed in a moment-no one can do that. But I might get to design part of a book that kids will be using or work with future math teachers, and even if that’s not changing everything it is changing something. So Mr. Math, I’m curious to hear more-it was a long and hard road to get to this point-I didn’t reach this post without a lot of hard work.

  4. Mr. Math

    You are a pretentious idiot!

  5. Norah O'Neill

    Looks like Mr’ Math’s vocabulary is quite limited.

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Learning more about life than math…

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