Day 2: A Lesson about Math

Today was our first “half day” as they are called here.  We have students 5 hours (out of 7) today because of weekly meetings on student progress in both the academic and living units of the building.  Because of the disrupted schedule, this is one day a week where I fulfill my required curriculum of Accelerated Mathematics.


The look, the questions, just about everything I see on these days make me cringe.  This program just reinforces the misconception that for math, student manipulate numbers and “find” and answer.  I do a lot every other day to make sure students know that this type of work is only one faucet of math, much like 3 point shots is only one faucet of basketball.

There is one good thing about Accelerated Math, it allows me to determine a student’s Math Personality.  I have found that although students have a personalities that we come to know and use to identify the student socially, students also have a personality when they step through my door.  There are many times that the social personality of a student is drastically different that their Math personality.  Over the years, students have a set of experiences with Math that determines their mindset toward math, their math teachers, and their class interaction.  These experiences come from a variety of variables: parents, peers, social media, teachers as well as the student themselves.

I have found that one of the biggest influences of Math personality is the parents of the student.  How parents handle homework is a huge factor in how a student reacts to Math.  I hear many students who say that math is hard for them, that it’s a foreign language- just to hear those same sentiments from their parents.  I have also found that students who go the extra mile to tackle a hard problem are those whose parents model those same attributes when working with their student on their homework.  Homework completion also seems to be a linear relation to amount of effort and time devoted to problem-solving.  A student who hands in an assignment half done will put in half of the time and effort than one who solves a difficult problem.

The second biggest influences of a student’s Math personality is experiences a student has had in prior classes.  I had one student who absolutely hated math class, and refused to do any work whatsoever.  After a few weeks of relationship building with the student, I finally got them to tell me the root of the problem (before I just got “Math is dumb, and I will never use it”).  They used to love math until a day when they had to present to the class.  Now this is where things totally threw me for a twist, it wasn’t something math related that went wrong with the presentation.  This student had a skin condition, and had an especially bad outbreak on the back of her neck.  When she was presenting and writing things on the board, students noticed this and harassed her about it after class.  Because of all the negative experiences resulting from that one moment in a math class this student shut herself down.  I have also had stories on the opposite end of the spectrum- I have had students who love math because of a positive moment in class (one student told me he won a game of “around the world” and has loved math ever since).

Accelerated Math gives me a very clear vision of how the student sees themselves mathematically.  Our program has classes of multiple grade levels so students are working on a variety of different topics- all instruction on these days are highly individualized.  For my class, students work on the problems and if they get less than 80% correct on a practice they need to do corrections.  This process will reveal a lot of a student’s Math personality.  The 1-1 work I do, questions I ask, responses I receive, body language, etc are all things that allow me to cue in to the student’s attitude towards math.  It gives me all of the information I need to make modifications for each student so they can experience success in Math and hopefully shift some student’s Math personality into a more positive light.


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