Math or maths, if you will, is a funny subject. As you know from reading other mathfairy thoughts, I personally find math incredibly magical: The Fibonacci sequence in nature! Ten fingers and a base ten number system! Triangles! And I find that almost everyone I meet has very strong feelings about math. I was speaking with my 84 year old father recently. He’s quite brilliant. My parents are both amazingly smart, very articulate, well educated, you get the idea…my dad and I were discussing some of my latest teaching experiences and ideas about math in general. He was talking about how math is a language for the world. I, of course, had to proclaim my favorite quote, “mathematics is the language with which god has written the universe” from Leonardo da Vinci. And then, surprisingly, my brilliant father said, “yes, a language I don’t understand and never have.” I was so surprised! I think he understands so much more of the magical world of math than he realizes and I think his disconnect has to do with our definition of math, particularly in the U.S. We think it’s just numbers and calculations. It’s sure not. I’m learning more and more all the time about what a visual, creative language mathematics really is.
My son, who is autistic, has also always had very strong beliefs about math. Being in special education, unfortunately for him, meant that math was solely calculation. He sure does know his times tables well! But I’m not sure, even with the math fairy for a mom, that he’s had much opportunity to experience the magic of math. It happened recently, though. We were at a meeting with a couple of social workers. They were heaping well-deserved praise on my young man. He has very nice social skills and enjoys working with people so he was really enjoying this praise. He interrupted the conversation to say, “I know a multiplication trick! Do you want to see it!” Of course they said yes and he asked for a piece of paper. He carefully wrote:
5 x 9 = 45
6 x 9 = 54
Then he looked around at us expectantly, smiled and said, “4, 5 … 5, 4…mind blown, right?!” We all laughed and then I showed him 4 x 9 and 7 x 9. His face was a delightful study in awe.
In thinking about this event with my son, of course at first I felt like a failure. He’s 20. He should have had this wonderful math aha moment a long time ago. Then I lamented to myself about his unmagical math experiences. But then I thought, “No. It doesn’t matter when he has this moment. It just matters that he had it. That he experienced a piece of the mathemagical universe.” I feel the same about my dad and about every child I teach. Sometimes it only takes one moment to transform someone’s perception of math forever.
Which brings me to the Revolution. Do you know Jo Boaler?
I heard about her and read her work and tried some of her problems, primarily thanks to two wonderful coaches from the University of Washington. The math team at my school has had the privilege to be working with these two coaches on an instructional approach called Complex Instruction. I hope to write more about Complex Instruction elsewhere and I encourage you to investigate on your own. I am an exponentially better teacher because of my work with this philosophy.
So, back to Jo. Jo Boaler’s work at Stanford University with the Youcubed team. They are AMAZING!!! They are doing research on growth mindset and the brain as it pertains to maths learning. I was incredibly fortunate to attend their two-day teacher training workshop a few months ago. I’m pretty passionate about my work as a middle school math educator and I always love new ideas. I came back from this workshop on fire. And I’m still on fire months later.
The Youcubed team talks about starting the maths revolution because they believe that everyone….including my dad and my son…can experience the beauty of mathematics. Can learn mathematics to high levels. Can find joy and fun in exploring mathematics. And that the best work in math is visual, artistic and creative! Yay! The math fairy’s favorite!
Youcubed Workshop takeawys
When I went to the youcubed workshop my biggest takeaways were:
- Math should be fun, engaging and interesting.
- Open-ended tasks require students to apply their thinking and be innovative with their strategies. And there are a lot of open-ended tasks available out there. As well, I learned how to give myself permission to make tasks more open-ended.
- Visual strategies ~ such as drawing pictures, counting on fingers, and using manipulatives ~ are good, useful strategies. They are not “baby” strategies that could or should be abandoned when students reach a certain age.
I could go on and on but what I really want to say to you is: Go! Go to the youcubed training at Stanford!
Beg your administrators, start a go-fund-me page, have some bake sales, whatever it takes. If you are open to thinking about math in new ways and you are open to redefining both how you teach math and your own role as a teacher, then I promise you that you will not be disappointed!
And, youcubed team, if you’re reading this…. Thank you. Thank you for making me a better teacher, a better thinker, a better mathematician, a better daughter and a better mom.