I recently had an experience with a mountain that taught me a lesson about my students as well as students in general. I decided to go for an evening workout with my uncle and unbeknownst to me, my uncle chose to run a trail that was on a mountain. I was excited about this run because I had the opportunity to climb a mountain this past summer in Colorado Springs, CO and it was a great experience. Our run started off wonderful, and we eventually reached a certain point where my uncle decided we should head back down the mountain because of the sunset. At first he was unsure about what path to take so that we could head down the mountain, but I was unbothered because the sunlight was still quite visible from the position we were at on the mountain. A few minutes later, we seemed to have found the right direction, but eventually my uncle explained to me that he hadn't been up this particular mountain in a few years so he was somewhat unsure how to get back to the bottom. At this point I was concerned because it was getting even darker outside and our vision of the trail was getting hazy. My concern was not so much being stuck on the mountain, it was the fact that we couldn't clearly see the trail, and I didn't want either one of us to get an injury due to all of the debris and uneven ground on the trail. We happened to pass a gentleman on the trail whom appeared to be going up the mountain and he gave us his version of directions to get back. Unfortunately, his directions became confusing after only a few minutes. By this time, it was dusk outside and we were trying to read the signs on the trail for help. We decided to go left just as the last gentleman had told us, but shortly after, there was another fork in the road. We stopped and had no clue which direction we should follow. Instead of getting too worried, we decided to remain still for a few minutes. Then, we looked up and saw two lights and to our surprise, it was a biker. We inquired about directions and thankfully about ten minutes later, we were finally able to exit the trail.
After arriving back where our journey began, I felt great about the fact that we didn't have to call 911 to get rescued from the mountain. While driving home, I realized how that experience with the mountain can be very similar to a child's experience in a mathematics classroom. Often times students begin a task with confidence because of their past experiences and/or performance. Things start out well for them with working on a task, but at some point, things begin to get dark and hazy in regards to what direction is needed to arrive at the solution. In a child's mind, once they begin to struggle, they are often reminded of the dark places that aren't mathematically familiar. It doesn't necessarily mean they don't know the content, they just may be having trouble recalling the specifics of that particular concept. The student will likely request help from a peer, which results in them being able to proceed a little further with solving the task. Later they may arrive at another point in the task where they are unsure or unaware of which direction to take. At this point, once the student has reached for the help of their peers already, the teacher should be the next line of help. Hopefully after the teacher's directions, the student gains the confidence of knowing that they are headed in the right direction and are not far from the solution. When the students arrive at the solution, they should be mindful of their experience with working through a productive struggle. At no point on that mountain were my uncle and I worried about getting off of the mountain, we were only concerned about visibility to help us arrive at our destination. As teachers, we should seek to build up the confidence of our students so they surely know at some point they will arrive at the solution to a task. However, when lessons are effectively facilitated, the teacher sets themselves as the last line of help for the students, just like the random stranger that happened to cross paths with us while we were lost. I took notice that this gentleman was not only riding his bicycle on the trail, but he also had a light on his helmet as well as his bicycle. This reminded me of the significance of having the proper tools and resources to work with on a task. I encourage all math teachers to establish a climate that facilitates the problem solving process allowing students to productively struggle on their own before helping them. It will help build confidence in their own mathematical ability as well as force them to be critical thinkers which is a critical skill needed for life.
Parents please don't let your frustrations with the education system hinder your child from learning and having a great experience with school. We are all aware that the system is flawed, but so many other government run systems have flaws as well. Children often begin elementary school with a passion for learning however, at some point a bad experience curves their enthusiasm. As parents we must be sure to protect them and advocate for them but also be mindful when our advocating can start enabling them to give subpar performance in class. Children are very smart and they learn how to play parents and teachers against one another at an early age. I encourage you to advocate for your child, but be mindful of the conversations that you have with teachers in front of your child. If they know you will challenge the teacher without first researching the facts, they will try to get away with poor academic performance in hopes of knowing that you will defend them even when they are wrong. Be mindful of these same conversations with the other people you often socialize with as well. You never want to provide a crutch for your child and end up hindering them from giving maximum effort in their learning process. A student's performance in class is affected by several factors on a daily basis. The first factor is their relationship with the peers enrolled in the class with them. The second factor is their performance in previous math courses. The third factor (which is the most important in my opinion) is their relationship with the teacher. Often times students fail to give their maximum effort for a teacher that they don't care for. As parents we must communicate with our child's teacher to examine the relationship that has been built between them and the student. This can be difficult because in some cases a child may not be fond of the teacher simply because that teacher is strict and requires the students to perform at a high level academically. A good teacher can help a child perform well regardless of how poorly the child may have performed in the past. Now there are cases in which the child is being treated unfairly by the teacher and as a parent you should advocate for your student. However, be mindful of the things you are asking of that teacher because some parents want the teacher to do things as if their child is the only student in the class. We must be respectful of that teacher's obligation to the many other students they teach. Also parents please be sure that you are holding your child accountable and making them take ownership for their learning. When the parents and the teacher are on one accord, magical things can happen for your student! Two simple words that can build a great relationship between teachers, students, and parents are: Effective Communication. Remember parents to be an ADVOCATE for your child, not an ENABLER!
We've all seen that post on our social media timeline when one of your virtual friends shares that story of how they were helping their child with math homework only to hear their child say "My Teacher said that's wrong!". Or maybe you haven't seen this scenario on your timeline, but you have an elementary school child and have dealt with this issue first hand. This is becoming a "common" concern since the adoption of the Common Core State Standards for mathematics by several states across the U.S. Some parents like hearing the words Common Core as much as they like hearing someone scratching a chalkboard. Let's get to the bottom of issue and hopefully by the end of this post, you will have a better understanding of why you despise helping your child do their math homework these days. Most people only know that the Common Core standards were implemented so that students across the United States would be learning the same concepts in their mathematics classes. However, the intent of the writers of the Common Core State Standards (CCSSM) was to help students have a better conceptual understanding of the mathematics they are learning. In plain english terms this means they were trying to help kids answer the question of "Why". For example, students have been taught for years that when you are subtracting multi-digit numbers, you may have to "borrow" from the next higher place value if the number on the bottom is larger than the number on the top. But when someone borrows something from you, naturally you expect them to give it back at some point right? This method worked for years in classrooms across the U.S., but students were just learning how to follow a set of procedures to solve these subtraction problems. What the CCSSM is supposed to show is that you are not borrowing anything. In fact, you are actually regrouping the number that is on top and writing it in a different form. Where this relates to classroom teachers today is unfortunately many of them have not received quality training in teaching the Common Core Standards, so unfortunately they are forced to convey the information to the students the only way they know how. This is causing frustration amongst parents every single day I'm sure. On behalf of the teachers, I would like to say that many elementary school teachers struggled with teaching mathematics before Common Core adoption and the problem got worse after the adoption of those standards. My suggestion to the parents is to seek out virtual resources to supplement what you already know and also be open to learning how this "new math" works. Whether you know it or not, your attitude towards the math often transfers to your child and they begin to have a negative mindset towards the work when they see that from you. There are several virtual math tutors available that can help you and your child get a better understanding of the concepts if you are willing to invest in your child's education. Also you can find a vast amount of virtual math lessons via the internet. I'd like to suggest the Youtube channel for one of the best online math tutors out there which happens to be Young Gurus Math Tutoring!
Many students go through four years of high school and strive to attain the highest Grade Point Average (GPA) possible. This is a great goal and it should be acknowledged by their school and their family. However, not all students with a high GPA, are students that will be successful in collegiate studies or even perform well on standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT. What causes this phenomenon? In many cases, the student probably attended a high school which failed to have the proper resources in place to prepare that student for the rigors of post secondary education. The student may have attained good grades during high school but failed to truly learn how to study. Also the student may have taken teachers in high school that did not offer rigorous coursework. There are many secondary schools across our nation that are placing students in Honors and AP courses, but the coursework being assigned to those students is not truly at an Honors or Advanced Placement level. Unfortunately, these factors are providing a disservice to our students and they will eventually be exposed for their academic ability or lack there of. As an educator, I have come to find that grades are not always a clear indication of a student's academic ability. We must begin to shift our teaching methods to cause our students to attain mastery of the content. This is not a simple task due to the focus on standardized testing across our nation (but that's another blog post for another time). When the students have a better conceptual understanding of the content we are presenting, they have higher rates of long-term retention of the content. Also, when students have been challenged with a rigorous curriculum, they will discover various ways in which they can persevere through learning tasks. I challenge parents, to focus less on your student's grades, and find ways to discover whether or not your child is really understanding the content they are being taught in school. Find ways to see if your child is learning to think for themselves and analyze tasks from a holistic perspective versus simply listening to a teacher spill a bunch of facts at them day in and day out. My title of this post is simply referring to the concept of whether you as a parent would prefer to see good grades on your child's report card and possibly risk them not understanding the material or whether you can accept them bringing home average grades, with the assurance of knowing they have struggled to attain mastery and understanding of the concepts. We often encourage students to attend college, but what are we doing to prepare our students for the academic rigor that comes with being a college student? The cost of post-secondary education is far too expensive to see your child attend for a few semesters only to dropout due to lack pf academic preparation. Teachers are going to teach the curriculum at school, but not all teachers are passionate enough to ensure that your child is getting a conceptual understanding of the content.