All Ready for Tomorrow? Well, Maybe.

I just finished fine-tuning my plans for tomorrow, and I have to admit, I’m feeling deflated.

I went to the SUM (Saskatchewan Understands Math) Conference 2013, which featured Dan Meyer and Marian Small as keynotes. I got myself fired up to be amazing upon my return to school. Somehow, I’m feeling like I’m fighting a losing battle.

I can say with certainty that the lens I view the textbooks with has never been entirely rose-coloured, but upon my return, I have become very unenthusiastic. The questions and problems seem just short of pointless.

Their big redeeming quality, as Dan Meyer would point out, is that they have some content to use as a jumping off point. They are just written in the most monotonous way.

For instance, tomorrow we will be doing a review of perimeter to launch into the composite shapes chapter. The first question asks, “Draw a rectangle that has a perimeter of 24 squares on a piece of grid paper.” The second question asks, “Draw a rectangle that has a perimeter of 28 squares on a piece of grid paper.” The third asks, “Draw a rectangle that has a perimeter of 20 squares on a piece of grid paper.” The numbers here might be wrong, but the boringness is still maintained.

I do see the value in this — perimeter is a total measure of all the side lengths. There is an infinite possibility of side lengths that can have a measure of 24 squares. This could be powerful stuff. But it’s not, because it is so rote.

I wanted to come back ready to shake it up in my class. I am ready for that change, but I’m still struggling with executing it. I have plans for a Three-Act activity on Thursday, and I’m hoping that can spark the change. Where I’m struggling here is how I can start making small changes to my teaching that will eventually lead up to big ones? Are there little daily things I can/should do to help prime my students to have their minds blown when I’m ready to take that jump?


3 thoughts on “All Ready for Tomorrow? Well, Maybe.

  1. I know that feeling, and I think many of the students dread those kind of questions just as much as you do.
    That review stuff might not be necessary! In fact, I think a lot of kids don’t want, and/or don’t benefit from spending a class or two on review.
    Try this…
    Start off with the evacuation route for a fire drill from different locations on th first floor of your school (you need a plan of your school), and sneak in that perimeter is the same concept, except that you have to wind up back at the same place you started from.
    And then ask them to come up with a round trip as close to 240 meters as they can, and describe the shape that they formed.
    The activity is even more memorable to them if they have to measure th actual route (do you have any of these “metre” wheels?
    Just my two cents.

    • Thanks for the advice. I didn’t get to try the evacuation route plan, but it’s on my must-try list.

      I definitely didn’t quite “review” as planned. I let them lead the review, and it was way less direct than I anticipated. They responded relatively well, all things considered!

  2. Sara, I’ve been struggling with the same thing all year. When I taught primary, I NEVER used a textbook. I don’t even think we have one at the school. I used the curriculum document, read books by Marian Small, engaged in “math chats” online through Twitter, and consulted our school Math Facilitator to create activities accordingly. I think that the learning was richer as the students were really talking about and working with math. They loved math!

    Then I started teaching Grade 6 this year, and my feelings on the textbook were the same. I was told by colleagues that as a junior teacher, I needed to start using the textbook. This is what other teachers did. Looking at our EQAO scores and our areas of need in math, the principal was behind me moving away from using the textbook. Students needed to really explore math. They needed to truly engage with the content. They wanted that right and wrong answer option that the textbook provides though. I have moved away from using the textbook this year, but it’s taken all year to get the students used to doing so.

    Just the other day, I actually used the textbook as a jumping off point for a new unit. While I extended the activity in there, it was still the textbook. For our second math period that day, a student asked me if we would be using the textbook again. I said, “no,” and she was upset. I asked why, and she said, “Because the textbook is easy. There’s no thinking required.” If this is what a Grade 6 student knows, I think it speaks volumes for why we need to move beyond a textbook. How are things going as you move beyond the textbook?


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