As part of my process as a teacher, I ask my students to reflect on their learning and experiences in my math class. I have the fortune of getting to loop with students, sometimes for three years, and that allows us to build a long-term relationship. I have this idea for an end-of-year project in eighth grade where students will create a representation of their math journey. I ran out of time to scaffold the project this year, but I decided to dive in and see what would happen. I received the whole range of products, but at the heart of it all, I got very honest and personal reflections on students’ experiences in my class and with mathematics. They ranged from posters, written paragraphs, timelines, poetry, stop-motion video, and comic strip. I am excited to refine the project and try it next year.
One of the reflections moved me to tears. The journey that this student and I have been on began in sixth grade. It may not have the same impact with out knowing EB and how far he has come, but the essence of this piece will be something I will cherish forever. He has given permission for me to share it here. This will be something that I will read when I am feeling down on my chose profession and the difficult work that is teaching.
Thank you, EB!
When I started doing basic math I liked it a lot because I understood it. Then later in 4th and 5th grade I started to hate math because didn’t have a good understanding of the math we were doing. My grades had gone down, from their usual perfect four to a less less good but still respectable three. In 5th grade and throughout elementary school I was told that middle school would be so much harder than elementary school. And math was no exception. Except it was. Math was much easier once I got into 6th grade and it only got easier as I started to like math more and more. There is a very apparent correlation between how much you like math and how well you understand math and most of how well you understand math comes from how well it was taught. It goes to show how well I was taught in middle school.
I really like math now, more than I ever have. Almost everything about math is very interesting to me. I often felt bored of it, but I realized that was because I thought of it as work that I needed to get through and be done with to move on with my life, but if I stop thinking of the work as something that is a hurdle in my way that I must overcome and start thinking of it as a piece of something that I can look at, mess with, explore, and really think about it becomes a journey into a theoretical world. I learned this fairly recently. Recently enough that it has not fully ingrained itself in my head.
I often don’t write out my math, but I find when I do (especially on a whiteboard) I have a greater contact with the math itself and it helps me understand the math much better. When I was 5th grade, 6th grade, 7th grade and even most of 8th grade I considered writing problems a hassle and not needed. I still find myself doing a lot of math in my head, but sometimes I will write everything down and often a math problem is not a problem at all for me to do when I write everything down.
Often I’ll will be fascinated by the simplest math. I’ll be amazed that one plus one equals two. Just like I was in Kindergarten or First Grade or whenever I learned math at first. So at the beginning of my mathematical career I was amazed at math and here I am today still amazed. I spent a good amount of time thinking math is simple and uninteresting. I did not know this at the time but my Kindergarten self who looked at simple math with fascination was in my opinion smarter than the self who scoffed at simple math.
I used to think that math was useless for most jobs , especially the one I want to do (I want be a musician), but math is extremely useful in music. A lot of music is understood through the lens of math. Math is very useful. To close this off I have to say one simple thing: I love math.