Mathing Adventure: Day 1

It was painful. Not because of the content but because of the pedagogy or lack there of.

For my math section, our first scheduled meeting was the lab, not the lecture. Like many of the students I was not sure if this should happen. It just seemed odd. So that is probably where I would start if I were the teacher. Addressing the students and talking about how these courses work in tandem (maybe they do- I am still not sure).

I do know there was no community building. There was no making me feel welcomed. I am in a carrel  in math lab. I am hoping once we actually go to the lecture I will at least get to see the faces of my classmates. I have met a few and they seem awesome!

Another thing, I am conflicted with is that even though they want us to attend this math lab and it seems we only have to attend once to get our “credit” the only other incentive is that our “grade” in this course will be used as extra credit for our lecture course. We can earn a max of 10 extra credit points. Knowing how motivation works, this is not going to work. It is too distal of a goal. I would be interested to see the average “extra points” for this “lab.” I now use quotes because I am not sure it is a lab.

It was so hard for me to sit and watch, when I knew things could be done so differently and for the better. This may be the hardest part for me being in the classroom. I want to fix, adjust, make suggestions in the moment. I may need to put a rubber band on my hand to remind me I am the student, not the teacher. I am not the “university supervisor” out checking on my interns to see what could be improved and what is going really well.

“Lab ended” and though I was excited to be back in the classroom and working problems – I really do love math- the #edpsych professor in me was frustrated.

After eating lunch (way too quickly) and then teaching my own class – which went pretty, though there is always room for improvement- I skedaddled over to my lecture class for math. I did not have high expectations for this part and they were met.

First off, I get to the door (well what I assumed was the only door) for class and it is locked. I checked my watch to make sure I was not late.  I was not. But the prof gives me a weird look as she is already passing out papers. I am worried. What happened? Is she going to let me in? This is a horrible way to start and I have done this- going to class- MANY times. After she lets me in, she lets me know there is another door I could have come in- there was no sign on the door. Now, I am cool with this but I can’t imagine how some other students with less confidence in the classroom would have felt.

Next, like way too many college classes, we go over the syllabus. I don’t find it to be helpful and I am quite confused by some of the policies listed. I find myself writing “why” next to many of them and plan to follow up.  It is here in moments like this that I feel I can and will use my privilege.  I know the game of school well. I am a white woman who is overly college educated and I am going to use all of these in this situation. Also the syllabus is not student friendly.

And again there was NO community building. No getting to know us. I have no idea what the students names are. One student had a legit issue and I said I could help and then we just kept going. We are not going keep students in the class and on campus if we keep teaching courses like this.  ARGHHHHH

For the remainder of the class, we go over the “review” material. Now, I am not sure when was the last time the other “normal” students in this course took this material but I can tell you that for me this review is based on learning from 20 years ago.  So I am not sure it is a review as much a reintroduction? But the prof held pages from a book, read from them, and did the examples on the board. It was as bad as all of the students have said it was but some how worse. It was painful. I felt bad that I just wanted to check my phone, glance at my watch and felt a huge pain when we still have 30 minutes to go.

It was in these moments I remembered why it important for teachers to become students again.  We need to know what it is like when things go wrong in the classroom. I had to practice some serious self-regulation because I just wanted to keep checking my phone. I wanted to use it to check on a few things listed in the syllabus. I wanted to x, y and z but per the syllabus I was not to have it out and also I know that if I had it out I would be distracted. BUT I still wanted to use it at times. I also readjusted my sitting position at least 10 times. Those seats were not comfortable. Again- we teachers need to keep putting ourselves in the students places- literally.

In the end, though I was able to at times focus on the content, I just kept trying to think of ways we could improve the teaching. What activities could I use to make this material more accessible, relevant and engaging for these students? I know this is the “lowest” math class offered on campus. These students are already struggling and from what I saw we are not using any best practices to help them. For me this is criminal.

**Note Class was NOTHING like this awesome pic from the University of Akron Math Lab 



Back to the Classroom, as a student

Seems that August is the time when I revisit this blog. Probably because for me August is the beginning of a new year. I live and die by the Academic Calendar, so I seem to make a New Year’s Resolution around this time which involves writing and posting in this blog.

This time I am really hoping it sticks because I want to document my adventure back into the classroom as a student. At this point in my life, tenured-professor, mother of 2 (under 3), this seems like a crazy idea but hear me out.

When I first switched (for a brief moment I wanted to join the FBI and UMD graduates the most FBI agents sooo- but mind you I don’t like guns, so this quickly became a bad idea) my major to education (what I wanted to be my whole life), my first semester at UMD, I seriously considered becoming a math teacher. But I was already enrolled in courses that would count toward me becoming a social studies teacher. Also, I had placed into the lowest credit math course. This is most likely a result of that fact that I forgot that I had to take math placement test when I went to orientation.

But I had always loved math, I had always exceeded in math. During my high school years, I looked into how I could take upper level math my senior year. The problem was I needed to take a math course over the summer – and well for me summers were devoted to playing travel basketball and volleyball so math lost out.  I lost out.

Let’s pause here for a minute and let me tell you why I was “behind” in the math track at my high school. Remember, I always excelled in math. It never gave me trouble. BUT I went to a private grade school that only had 1 classroom for each subject. One teacher for those subjects. Well, they taught to the norm. There was no differentiation. I remember becoming very bored and talking often during math course. So I excelled in the average setting.

When I got to high school, I saw that many of my peers were placed into a “higher” math tracks and this was a result of the differentiated classrooms they had in their grade schools. This is one area I think I would have benefitted from going to public middle school.

Now back to UMD and choosing my major – these experiences weighed heavy on me. I remember actually talking to my high school math teacher who taught the upper level courses, if she thought I would be a good teacher in this area. She said yes. My mom said I should do math. But of course I did not listen, I thought I was too far behind (sighhhhh), I thought I was not good enough, and so I chose social studies (now to be fair I loved this area because I loved economics and the ability to debate – both things I learned and enjoyed in high school).

Second pause… at some point in time my mom, a special education educator for 30 years, told me she actually started college as a math major…WHAT. Where was this valuable piece of information before. I really wonder how this would have impacted my choices. I mean I actually had to listen to her to hear it 🙂

Fast forward to my Ph.D. program. As an ed psych major we had a few “tracks” – research methods and stats, psych, or instructional technology. I really liked the psych track but their grad courses were offered exclusively during the day so I could not take them (I was teaching social studies). I got to a point where I needed some classes and I could in theory take Stats 3 (Regression) and Multivariate Stat at the same time. These are “scary” courses. These are courses people don’t do well in. These give people the heeby jeebies… so I asked my advisor what he thought about me taking both. Without hesitation, he said I should do it.

The semester I took Regression and Multivariate, was also filled with some family health issues. But you know what, I did it and I did it well. An A in Regression and an A- in Multivarite (my only none A in my doc program). These courses were difficult and challenging and I dare say – exciting and engaging. I truly experienced flow while working on my stats projects.

To be clear, stats is not exactly math. I mean it uses math but as my stats professor said it is a lot more logic than math.

Fast forward to the present. I work with amazing pre-service teachers and many of the struggle with math. It pains me when they say they can’t do math- and they want to be an elementary teacher (we have a LONG chat about this). What is devastating is how our education systems have failed them and not prepared them in math. They have been poisoned by the idea that math is only for some people (inner screaming!). This is now leading them to not be able to pass a test, which they need to get into the education program.

So maybe, just maybe, if I start from the beginning in the math courses at our university – which is where I was placed based on our math placement test- I can help the students in these courses, I can help my pre-service students as they prepare for their tests, and maybe I will eventually become certified to teach secondary math AND maybe I will teach middle school students math (but I do love my college schedule 🙂 So, here I go…



Let’s try this again

I attempted to start a blog with a similar theme when I had my first child, Remy Zuzu.  I tried to start a blog some time after my second child, Netta Coco, was born.  I do not have three children, I do have tenure so, I am now bound and determined to start this blog. I don’t know why. Well I do kind of… I see every single day the connections between what I teach in my educational psychology courses and how I am rearing my children.   I see example after example.  I hear myself almost trying to save the moment and use it as an example later or wishing I had videoed the moment to show my students.  OR the fact that I am constantly thinking about the theories, research and practices I discuss in class as I begin this parenting adventure.  For me there is almost no separation between being an ed psych professor and being a mama.  The only difference is I have a “class of 2” and most of my students will have classes of 20 (probably closer to 30 unfortunately).

To almost force myself, I bought the domain.  See in the past when I have bought the gym membership, I actually went to the gym.  I was not the statistic who let it go unused.  I am too cheap- my mom says I am frugal- I am cheap.  So, I have to find time and get this thing rolling.

I currently envision having a page for parents, who like me are just trying to do our best.  We are surfing through all kinds of information and then trying to apply that to our situation, our children, our home.  For me though, the research has to be sound.  I mean I teach research methods and statistics so, if the study is not done well, I am not buying.  For me there is a science to learning and education, and I take that into account when rearing my children. Though sometimes it is really hard (impossible) to single out the variable that is causing the problem.

I also envision a page for students- mine and all of the other ed psych students out there preparing to be teachers.  I want them to understand the research behind various methods and instructional practices.  I want them to consider the methods that they have experienced and question whether they were actually good, bad or indifferent.  My goal is for teachers to be empowered educators.  For them to be able to sift through the often worthless professional development they attend and to build their own personal learning networks and to become even better educators.

I love learning and I love education and I love research.  I love my kiddos.  So my goal is to try and combine all of these loves (not listed in order of love), find time to write about them and post them here for the 3 people who may eventually read this blog.

Time for bed.

**(It was a good thing I went to bed because I spent the next two days dealing with sick kiddos.)