Why *am* I here?

I’m reading over one of Dan Meyer’s blogs. The post explores what differnet mathematics bloggers are interested in and care about and testify on behalf of. The question(s) at hand is “Why are you here? What is your project? How do you testify on its behalf?”

I’m struggling to come up with an answer. On the one hand, I’m not 100% sure what my project is. On the other hand, I have some ideas that are very unfleshed out.

One of the things I find myself wondering about (and to some extent, exploring in this blog) is all the things that prevent our kiddos from accessing and learning mathematics. To some extent, this feels largely influenced by my context (all recent immigrants, many with interrupted formal education), but also feels like a question that all teachers struggle with.

Part of this struggle is that these stories are not mine to tell. Legally, I don’t want to share too much about my kiddos’ lives, especially names and sensitive information. That being said, there are certain trends, situations and traumas that surface and it feels important to recognize them, think about them, and honor that our kiddos are dealing with (and persisting through) them.

Another part of this struggle is that it sometimes feels like I’m making an excuse. So many blogs focus on all the amazing resources that are available to students of mathematics and the amazing work that they are doing. So thinking about why students aren’t learning feels like a copout (sometimes). “Such-and-such student is dealing with (XYZ situation) outside of school, so how can I expect them to be paying full attention today?” One of the things that I’m trying to push myself on this year is recognizing that kiddos need a moment and also helping them to realize that, if they take that moment and are able to get “back on the horse” (0ne of my favorite expressions from Joyce Dorado), they can (and are expected to) finish their work.

Trying to find this balance is hard. Many of our students are dealing with gaps in learning (among other things. Among many other things). At the same time, there is a (much needed) push for asset-based thinking at our school and recognizing that our kiddos can do many things. So when we run into situations like “Gordon can’t read” or “Sara doesn’t know how to divide”, what do we do? My current approach is to name and honor things that kiddos are struggling with (backed by evidence, not just my own subjective wonderings), but recognize that there are ways to get them to where we need them to be (Side note: Gordon read part of the objectives last week, which is a nice reminder that things improve with time and effort and that 9th grade at a school for emerging bilinguals can be hard).

So that’s my project for now. Exploring things that stand in the way of our kiddos’ learning and thinking about how to get them over that bump.

Related but unrelated: Schools are looking at different ways to respond to student trauma in an effort to reduce suspensions. The article looks specifically at training teachers in de-escalation techniques and more pull-in support. Article here.

Context: The Mathematics Twitter Blog-o-Sphere – a group of mathematics teachers who share their practice on the internet – is dedicating the month of August to writing a blog a day. It’s spearheaded by DruinOK. If you’re looking for ideas (and who isn’t?), prompts are here.

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Day 126: The One Where If You Fall Really Far, You Will Die

We’ve been experimenting with word problems as integrated math and English Language Development. Students read the problem, solve the problem and then do a write-up of the problem. It takes about a period to do 2-4 problems (for similarity, some groups finished one; most groups got to 3 for right triangle trigonometry). This might be different for mainstream classrooms, but I’d be curious. In contrast to activities like stations or explanation quizzes which encourage students to practice a range of problems, word problems feel like they allow students to dive deeper into problems.

It’s also curious to watch students mistake “the ground” in a word problem for “the line in the air”. I’m not sure if that’s a case of mis-translation or not reading the directions or something else.

Photo: If You Fall Really Far, You Will DieRight Triangle Trigonometry Word Problems

Gotta shout out Curriculum Partner on this one, since they wrote the word problems. Teaching 9th and 10th grade recently arrived English Language Learners is interesting. They often spend the first bit of time being confused – there’s a lot of English and the cognitive demands of high school in the US feel like they’re probably a bit higher than some of their prior schooling. But at some point during the year, they start to speak more English, they start to ask more questions, they start to write more things down.

This kiddo has recently become more active. I suspect it’s in part because we’re using scientific calculators (the non-fancy graphing ones for you following along at home) and this kiddo likes using them and feels successful at using them. At any rate, this kiddo was able to find the tangent of the reference angle (39.8) and label the unknown height of the tree as x. I think they also know that the shadow (the adjacent side of the triangle) was 60 feet, though their label is a bit misplaced.

Related, but unrelated: I completed my first Educational History Inventory. Don’t get too excited; it’s just a series of questions about how long a student has attended school for prior to arriving at our school. The vast majority of our students, especially those who arrive without documentation, do not bring transcripts or school records, so it’s hard for us to know if they’ve missed school in the past (something we call Interrupted Formal Education). To be fair, when I asked one student about their transcript, they said “well, my principal got shot, so…”. And I certainly wouldn’t count my transcript as the most important thing to bring with me from my home country.

At any rate, I’m actually finding that quite a few students who I suspected had Interrupted Formal Education have been in school continuously, which is leading me to think more about the transition to United States high schools and how we accelerate the growth in English process.