Back to School Night

I hate talking in front of people. It scares me to death. This is ironic since I’m obviously a teacher, but also because I danced and did theater when I was growing up. Usually at BTSN our middle school lead does all the talking. We have a meeting for all the ms parents in the library before the regular BTSN starts. We are just supposed to take a minute to say a quick something about our subject. Well… I had a lot to say. I kept waking up at 4:00 am thinking about the messages I wanted to send to the parents. My partner teacher said she didn’t mind me taking over. Finally, after school on the day of BTSN I sat down to brainstorm what had been running around in my brain for many days. When the time came, I just read it. I mean, I know you are supposed to use bullet points as a reference and everything, but no. Just read the whole thing. Barely looked up. Afterwards people clapped. That was kind of awkward, but nice. The Sci and LA teachers said they hoped they didn’t have to follow me. Sorry ladies! At the end of the meeting a few of my friend-rents came and said that I did a great job and that I shouldn’t always be so nervous. HA! After the general parent meeting I typically go to 5th grade to meet those parents. When the 5th teacher introduced me I proceeded to completely ramble through most of what I said to the ms parents. Oy!

anyway… here was what I said:

As you know, we started implementing the CCSS 2 school years ago. The thing that I love most about the Common Core are the Standards for Mathematical Practices. These standards are consistent across the grades from K-12. The standards tell us the “what” of your children’s learning, but the SMPs tell us “how.” If your students got in the car today or yesterday and asked to go to in-n-out, it may have been because we were using an in-n-out cheeseburger as a tool to work on SMP 6: Attend to precision. Today we brainstormed questions and took it further and tried to use a menu to work to find the cost of a 100×100 cheeseburger. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them (SMP 1). CC tells us to move away from just here’s a problem and now I will show you how to solve it. CC asks us to put greater responsibility in the hands of our students and to have them start by questioning, thinking of approaches, discuss their approaches, and ultimately come to a solution. They may come to their solution in 36 different ways, and we celebrate that! I think it’s an amazingly exciting time to be teaching math and I’m so lucky I get to!


When I was at Math Camp (yes, that’s a thing – imagine being in a room with 150 super passionate math teachers and all your math heroes. And yes. I have them) this summer having a wonderful time, Steve Leinwand gave a talk. He is a well known speaker, researcher, and author. Most recently he was co-author of the NCTM’s new guiding document – Principles to Action. He wrapped up his talk by saying the 9 most important words in the cc are “construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.” When a student is solving a problem, we should be constantly asking “why” and telling that student – “convince me.” It’s not enough anymore to simply find that solution. I tried doing this last year. I thought it went pretty well. At the end of the year one of the 5th now 6th graders raised his hand and said, Ms. M – may I go to the board and defend my reasoning? Wow. I was so excited!! You can help your kiddos at home with this – why is an easy question to ask! And this leads me to the next thing I want to say….


Mrs. P and I have talked about this a lot over the last year and we have a very important request. Please PLEASE try really hard not to say things in front of your children like, I was never good in math or I don’t like math. It is socially accepted to say this, and to us, that’s unacceptable! I get it. You’re in a situation where you have to do some thinking but it’s easier just to say – I can’t do it. I was at office max and the manager was trying to find the difference between 2 prices and told me that. I was at lowes the other day and I had that thought – yes me – because I was on the spot and nervous. So I asked for a piece of paper to get the calculation right. It’s ok. Think about it – when would anybody ever say I can’t read and then laugh about it. It should be the same with math. I’ve tried very hard over the years when students have told me that their parents can’t do the math to assure them that you parents know the math, but it’s been a long time since you’ve had to use those skills so they’ve been forgotten and that it’s ok that you may not be able to help them with their homework. Your kids look up to you and will take your lead. By this grade, they understand genetics enough to know they get hair, eye color, etc. from you. If you say you’re bad at math, they will assume that they are always going to be bad at math as well. They won’t understand that you had a bad teacher. And in some cases, they may start to do poorly in math because they don’t you to feel bad if they are good at it. We would encourage you, if this is the case, to start by having your child explain what they can do and ask those why questions. Sometimes just talking out loud can get your brain back on the right track. But please – stop telling the kids that you can’t do math and accidentally sending them the message that that’s ok! We also encourage you to allow them the room to struggle with a problem, and for you to model that is awesome. I’m not sure how many of the kids took advantage of the how to learn math class that was listed in the summer hw. I took the teacher version last year and found it fascinating. What I loved learning about the most, was that when you struggle with something – your brain actually grows. I mean really… how cool is that? Another way to help with this whole idea is to work on praising process not product. I know this is something we feel we both need to work on too. The difference between saying wow – you’re really smart vs. wow you really worked hard on that contributes to developing a growth mindset. And that’s a whole different discussion for a different day!


Finally – with the cc and the smp I just want to point out that we may teach a little or much differently than you learned. Please be careful when helping your kiddos. We are working together to really focus on concepts. Most of the tricks that we all learned and that I’ve taught with really get in the way of conceptual learning. There is a website called nix the tricks if you want to read more about it. But here’s an example. 5th grade – multiplying decimals. How did we all learn? Just count the decimal places, right? But why do we do that? Instead, last year I decided to say ok – well if 42 x 38 = 1,596, what would 4.2 x 3.8 be? Let’s estimate. What would 4×3 be? Ok 12, so where would be the logical place to put the decimal in 1596? Eventually the kids will find the shortcuts, but when they do, at least they will know why.


Sorry for the rambling – I hope you can tell I’m just super passionate and that I’m not crazy. I’m looking forward to another great year J


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