Eureka and Middle School Math

How lucky I am, summer edition

glass-101792_1920.jpgI have broken a lot of things this summer.  (I often break things, but rarely on purpose.)  For example, I broke YouTube two mornings in a row in June–I uploaded so many videos in succession for my grant work for ASSISTments that YouTube decided I was a spammer and blocked my account for a solid 90 minutes each day to ensure I was a human.

And I broke my budget and my financial planning by learning that the roof I put on eight years ago is a dud…cue the replacement to the tune of $16,000 next spring.  Sigh.

But in the middle of all the shards has been the realization that I am, once again, so very lucky, this time to have amazing peers and colleagues.

During the school year, starting the eighth year running next month, I’ve been fortunate to work with Irene Witt who excels at being way smarter than I am in hard math and at being patient with me.  Irene does all the detail work that I am too impatient to deal with and she works really hard to keep me out of trouble.  (It’s a losing battle, but I do appreciate the attempt.)   She isn’t afraid to push back and she also gives me the space to stick with things that matter to me.  She is my Friday-afternoon partner-in-crime when the building empties around us as all the normal people go home long before we roll out at 6:30 pm.  There is no “I” in 7th grade math, only a “we” and Irene is the better half of that we.

I am twice lucky this year because I not only get Irene during the school year but, this summer, I also have a summer partner-in-crime.  Because I am working full-time on the ASSISTments grant for Worcester Polytecnic Institute with a focus on the Eureka Math/Engage NY curriculum, I have a counterpart in Indiana, Heather Nees, who does the same work I do but in the Illustrative Math curriculum.  Heather and I have reached out and connected via text and phone, sharing curriculum questions, hints for working effectively in the ASSISTments program, and overall 7th grade student love-fests.

It has been intriguing to realize that Heather and I have similar expectations about the math work itself, despite the fact that we have never met, wouldn’t know each other if we met each other wearing name tags, and have never sat in a room together talking shop.  Part of our work this summer is to review online content created by students at WPI who are also working on the same grant we are, although in a slightly different capacity (we think).  The first time I sat down to look at some of the student-created work, I had to call Heather and get her opinion about things I saw that concerned me.  And we agreed 100% on our expectations and concerns:

  • accurate and precise mathematical language is a must (numerator and denominator, not “top and bottom”);
  • problems need what I call “white space,” even when a program tries to remove it;
  • there cannot be “magic math” in the explanations we create, no mathematical processes appearing out of the air, no numbers or values appearing without work shown, etc.

I have worked with Irene for so long that we rarely discuss expectations anymore, especially not at such a basic level.  In talking with Heather, I loved seeing that good teaching generates consistent expectations across different curricula, different teachers, different schools, different backgrounds, different areas of the country, etc.

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Not everyone has the opportunity to have a “partner-in-crime,” a person who shares a view-point but who also pushes back.  I think there is an overall lack in the education system in general in opportunities for teachers to collaborate and also a lack of interest on the part of administration to encourage teachers to trust each other.  Without trust, there is no growth or collaboration–we teach from our hearts, so sharing our thoughts and ideas demands a level of trust that can only happen when administration models that by trusting us as professionals as well.

I am also fortunate this summer to have the opportunity, once again, to turn the 6-8 math curriculum inside out.  It’s so rare to have seen what comes before and what comes after, even if only one grade on either side.  I have had the opportunity to work through the whole curriculum 6-8 now in making videos for ASSISTments and am about to start going through it all again to create text supports.  I believe that doing this work has already enhanced and will continue to deepen my understanding of my current grade level work because I can place it firmly in its position in the scope and sequence of the content.

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