March of the Turtles!

So the other day I decided to check on my “Slow Turtles.”


Gotta love my co-workers.  She wore this shirt the day that I asked my second round of “What animal are you in Math?” reflection question.  Although she didn’t know I was asking it that day or what the real meaning of the shirt could be in my class, our students did.  I had quite a few of them ask me if I had her wear it that day, if only I was that good…..

Here is the reflection questions:

When I walk into math class I feel like a(n) _______________.  fill in the blank with a type of animal

Explain why you feel like this animal.  What are some of your shared traits?

What animal do you think would be best for math class?

Explain why you think that.

I wrote an initial blog on this question here.

Ultimately I would have liked to work in my old school to do a follow-up to this question.  As it stands, I only had 3 students who were present in class the first time I asked this reflection question (and those were ones who left and are now back).  I would like to see how student’s opinions of themselves change over the course of the class, and this is a good way they can associate certain trait to themselves without using tags like “dumb”, “looser” or “geek”.

Last time the animals listed was:

  • Cat: Tries to cozy up to others to get help
  • Turtle: Slow and steady at math
  • Owl: Math comes easy
  • Hawk: Mind flies away on other things that interest him, usually many times during the class
  • Sloth: Slow, sluggish
  • Bear: Feels annoyed by others and wants to physically interact with them
  • Deer: Headlights?
  • Snail: Slow and small
  • Squirrel: Did someone say Nut?
  • Elephant: Feels huge in class, smart but not fast
  • Mouse: Small, quiet, unobserved
  • Gazelle: Quick, but not always going in the right direction

Many of my students at that time felt slow and sluggish at math.

This time the list of animals is:

  • Lion: Fast at finishing my work
  • Eagle: They have wisdom
  • Pug: They are sloppy
  • Dog: They are smart, they learn in groups
  • Wolf: Smart, cunning, travel and learn in packs
  • Koala: Quiet
  • Gorilla: Math makes me mad
  • Monkey: Smart
  • Cheetah: Fast
  • Bear: I like to hibernate
  • Turtle: Slow
  • Squirrel: Not smart
  • Gazelle: Jump high- reaching for higher goals
  • Jaguar: Speedy and tactical

Even though the animal types changed, the attributes assigned to each of them didn’t.  I’m not sure if it is because I have had many of these students for the past month or so, but I had 10 students pick monkey, 8 students pick wolf/dog, 5 choose eagle and 4 choose jaguar.  Their overall feeling of math is that they are smart and they are able to “Do Math.”  The wolf/dog reasoning surprised me, but it was a true trait.  Many students in my class now feel that they learn math better in groups- not because they copy answers but they can talk with each other to solve problems (that made me do a goofy happy-dance after school).  This group has been great for classroom discussions, I have only had to throw out a spark and they build on that- so much so that my main difficulty is to reign them back from their brainstorming a little so they can clearly communicate the concept and it’s connections.  It has been a refreshing yet fun few weeks (great turn around from when I had the P90X dilemma- with thanks to Justin, Megan and Christopher).

Last time the Animals listed as good math aspects:

  • Cheetah: Quick with precision
  • Horse: Swift and beautiful
  • Bear: Powerful, finds intelligent ways to overcome obstacles
  • Tiger: Quick and agile
  • Owl: Smart
  • Turtle: Slow and steady wins the race
  • Eagle: Sharp, quick reactions, fast processes
  • Hawk: Sharp, quick reactions, fast processes
  • Bunny: Cute and cuddly, but fast
  • Cougar: Quick for small bursts needed to solve problems
  • Wolf: Cunning
  • Lion: King of Math
  • Monkey: Playfully smart

Many students at that time though FAST is the main component to successful math.

This time Mathy Animals were:

  • Gorilla: Close to a human in terms of intelligence
  • Chimpanzee/Monkey: Close to a human in terms of intelligence
  • Cat: Smart
  • Crow: Smart
  • Wolf/Dog: Smart
  • Eagle: Wisdom
  • Shark: Fast, Smart

The thing that surprised me other than the very short list of “math animals” was the shift of focus away from being fast to being smart.  Taking notes from Jo Boaler, I wanted to know if they considered smart in terms of natural talent or a trait you could develop.  An overwhelming majority of the students redefined smart as being able to problem solve, and that it was something attainable- not something you were born with.  I am very proud of these kids, with all the negatives that are present in their lives right now they are very positive about their ability in class.  I am not taking the credit for this at all, rather I feel blessed that I have these students with this great mentality at the end of the year.  Seeing such enthusiasm effectively battles the end of year grind that many teachers and students feel.  These students have given me a slightly different vision (which I prefer individually and professionally) for my students than “slow and steady.”


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