A couple weekends ago, I was able to be a math coach for Rockford’s Math Club at the Math-team-matics Competition at GVSU. Earlier in the year, a group of students decided they wanted to bring the math club back out of retirement, where it has been for the last few years. Their love of math is infectious and inspiring.
As we walked into the competition, one of the students said “I just hope we don’t get last.” For their first ever competition, I would say that was a reasonable goal. Throughout the day, I didn’t get to follow the Rockford math team, but I got to follow Northview. Seeing these students made me remember why I wanted to become a teacher and why I fell in love with math. For an entire day, each of these students put other plans on hold in order to do math. And they had SO much fun. I think that somewhere, along the way, the fun has gotten sucked out of a lot of mathematics classrooms. But, sometime in our lives, every math teacher had that moment where they fell in love with math, with the pure enjoyment of it. We need to bring that back into the classroom.
The students at Grand Valley that day were inspiring, to say the least. But they were also incredibly impressive. The challenges that were thrown at them weren’t easy, but they were able to use their reasoning skills and their creativity to work through the problems. One of my goals as a mathematics teacher is to be able to challenge students and to force them to think creatively and reason their way through problems. Classrooms should be more like this. They should throw problems at students that encourage them to think, to reason, and to be inspired.
As much as I took away from this experience as a teacher, I think the greatest benefit was seeing how happy it made my students to be a part of the competition. They were so excited that I agreed to take them and they were having so much fun all day. Their goal of not placing in last was achieved. They took third! This was such a huge accomplishment for them and I could not be more proud.
Today, I got to attend GVSU’s Math in Action conference, both as a volunteer and as a pre-service teacher. My first session was with Karen Novotny, who helped design the Adventures with Mathematics books. We went through stations of activities directed toward high school students. These activities focus on students DOING mathematics and working on deeper, meaningful problems. I really enjoy the idea of students working through games and activities that are aligned with the common core, require deep thought, are complex, and use meaningful applications of mathematics.
The second session was with Tara Maynard, a high school teacher who has recently starting using the flipped classroom in her math classes. She has video lectures that students watch at home and she has activities and discussions while in class. I really love the idea of having a flipped math classroom. I think so many students could benefit from having the extra teacher interaction in class and the opportunities to ask questions. This also leads to more meaningful understandings of mathematics through discussion and deeper, complex problems. The only reservations I have about this is the applicability to all schools. Tara teaches in a school with a 1 to 1 ratio of students to iPads, which means that each child has the technological means to be successful in a flipped classroom. In my field placement, my students would not have this opportunity. I’m not even sure that all of my students would have any means of watching a lecture at home. So, though I love the ideas behind it, I really would be hesitant to implement it in situations where students do not have access to the technology needed.
After lunch, I attended a session led by John Golden and some of my teacher assisting peers about a math competition they helped create at Grand Valley. It’s for middle school and high school math teams and is modeled after one through GRCC. Since I don’t teach yet, I was more interested in the types of mathematics and questions they presented to these teams. All of the questions were complex and written so well. They really required thought and innovation. I want to use these types of questions for my students. I want them to think and see mathematics in a new way, in a way that is creative and fun and requires some thought.
The last session I attended was called Beautiful Mathematics and was all about the way that math is beautiful. Abe Edwards, the presenter, showed us a few different examples of how beautiful that math can be. One was of a Sierpinski triangle. Google it. I was so impressed by these kinds of mathematics. It just goes to show how we can get our students to be fully interested and impressed by the mathematical world. We want our kids (and ourselves) to do math for math’s sake, not as a means to an end. Math is beautiful and useful in its’ own right and these things can prove this. Math is beautiful. Such a great end to a great day.