Reflections from Katie: December 10, 2015

Reflecting on what is happening at school these days is a bit challenging in the face of what is happening in the world these days. As I sit down to write these reflections, I keep trying to figure out what to say about the events of the past few weeks, and I really have no words. Except perhaps to say thank you. There were so many hugs, looks of understanding, expressions of gratitude that came our way this past week, and those were very meaningful. But I think the most powerful thing I can do is keep our focus on the amazing teaching and learning that is happening at our school every day.

So, I want to talk about math. In general, there are not a lot of people who have warm and fuzzy feelings about math. I know that I don’t have memories of curling up with a workbook and solving equations the way I have memories of reading a good book in front of a fire. Math feels like work, while reading feels like pleasure. Of course this is not true for everyone, and my guess is that those of you who find great pleasure in math are also pretty good at it. Perhaps you’ve even chosen a career that utilizes these math skills and positive disposition. I have a hunch that the more we can help our children find joy and pleasure in math, the more they will want to do it, and thus the better they will be at it.One way we have started to encourage this disposition is through a free after-school math club. The math club is called “Crazy 8s”—named after a fun game that you may have some positive memories of playing as a child… and that involves using math in a fun way! Thanks to Glen’s hard organizational work, parent volunteers, and Lesley University volunteers, we are going to be offering a weekly opportunity to have fun with math. If you didn’t already get a flyer home about this, feel free to call us at school and ask us to send home another one.

While we do often use games in our math classrooms, I wouldn’t say that math at Cambridgeport is always about fun and play. But it is an area where I see high levels of engagement and discussion. Teachers ask children to explore the ways numbers can be put together, analyzed, taken apart, and puzzled with. I was recently in a fourth grade math class where the students were starting to build an understanding of equivalent fractions. They were talking with partners about a model of a fraction that was on the board when I walked in the room. The conversation quieted as the teacher drew a new fraction underneath the one that was already there. With a simple question, there were gasps throughout the room. And before anyone had a chance to blurt anything out, the teacher told them to turn to their partner and talk. I listened in on one conversation where one student gave an answer. The other student gave a different answer. They looked at each other with a moment of pause and confusion. Then the first student gave a reason for why her answer was correct. The second student listened, thought for a moment, and said, “Oh ok, so the answer is____. I agree with that.” She understood her partner’s explanation, and changed her mind.   We ask children to engage in deep thinking—analyzing and constructing arguments—in their math classrooms. And this makes math class an exciting place to be!

I have one request for all families when it comes to math and your child’s learning. As much as you can, try not to tell your children things like, “math is hard,” or “I was never good at math,” or “I hate math,” or “math scares me.” Chances are, your child’s experience of math learning is very different from what you experienced as a child. Our vision for math at Cambridgeport is that all children find joy, engagement, and success, and I hope we can count on your partnership in this vision.