Drinking the Kool-Aid

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Feb 18 2011

Why kids who are bad at math are good at math

I still get to see some of my kids who were switched into resource, because they’re only pulled out of core classes (not Math Intervention). Webbie and my Bass Drummer are two who would be doing pretty well in regular geometry if they hadn’t been thrown under the bus.

I showed them this site, and before I knew it, I was watching them solve equations without realizing it. I teased them to an understanding of how to get the answer, but I never said the words “divide,” “multiply,” “add,” or “subtract.” Scout’s honor. I only asked them questions about how much each would have to weigh if the total was such-and-such, or how much weight was left for those if you know these weigh such-and-such. At one point, I got out my Taco Cabana cups and my little math cubes and made my Bass Drummer split up 21 cubes into three cups rather than tell him to divide. It was wonderful, and they were having fun! They wanted the answer!

… Today in first period as we did more of them, Webbie was really proud that he knew how to do it faster than the rest of the class. At one point, after I chided him for typing in the answer before the class was ready, he said, “Miss—when you find something you know how to do, you gotta just DO it!”

AND, when he was getting stuck on one of them, he asked, “Miss, you still got those cups?” Which meant (even after he’d done some on the calculator!) that he was thinking of SPLITTING A NUMBER INTO GROUPS instead of pushing the “divide” button!! I was so proud of him.

That was the best part of this whole thing—watching the kids who are really good at memorizing the steps of how to solve equations (the kids who, if you ask them how they solved a problem, say something like “divide, multiply, subtract, divide”) struggle with the lack of direction, and watching the kids who usually aren’t good at procedures show their strengths at actual problem-solving.

In conclusion: special ed makes me mad, but manipulatives (both virtual and physical) are awesome. THIS one is next on my list.

5 Responses

  1. G

    Two thumbs up for Math Playground! I have used it with several of my students and they love it! It’s funny how much I am enjoying teaching math. If you knew how very much I despised math as a child, you’d find it funny too!

  2. Ms. Math

    Awesome Leslie! You rock! And thanks for including links and so much excitement about trying out new things.

  3. Ms. Math

    Just so you know,
    I sent this along to some Program Directors who are looking for examples of new teachers who are successfully trying out inquiry.
    I think that your example can motivate people who think that all my crazy research stuff sounds too hard. I’m learning a lot by hearing about what you are doing. In fact, I think that I want to study someone like you for my dissertation and see just what first year teachers can accomplish with a shifted mindset about teaching math.

    • Wess

      Haha! Funny thing is, I didn’t even mean to do it–it was a combination of “hey, I’m finally getting kids to come to my class after school–how can I make them stay?” and “Hum, I don’t have a lesson for first period tomorrow. What if I just do what I did in tutoring?” I wish I could say that I actually planned something out with inquiry in mind… but mostly I just remembered a cool site Melissa sent me and decided in the moment not to “help” them by telling them what operations to use in what order.

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