I’m just going to say it , straight out, Math is hard to teach, even in first grade. Students seem to love it or hate it – not many fall in between. You have those kids who struggle and you have those kids who seem to know everything. This school year, our schools math specialist started a bi- weekly math challenge. Just the word challenge seemed to motivate my students and so we did it, regularly, every 2 weeks. My students did well, (getting the answers) but what I did better as a teacher was to ask ask more questions. How do you know that’s the right answer? Could there be a different answer? Show me your thinking! So by the time we got to Math Challenge 12 , I was really on auto pilot. It was the first Monday after spring break and I have to say I grabbed the math challenge and thought “perfect, an already planned lesson. Let’s go! ” I put the problem on the overhead, read it, heard my students say “this will be an easy one” and they grabbed their pencils and went to work. And then, as usual, I watched my “high” math students finish quickly and one by one the rest finished too. We moved on with our day. It wasn’t until that afternoon that I went over their work. And while shocked may be a bit of an overstatement – it really was close to what I was feeling when I realized that all of my students but two, got the problem wrong.
Hmm. What did I do wrong? In my classroom we have spent the year talking about doing our best, persisting through hard tasks and rising to a challenge. The book, A Mindset for Learning by Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz has helped my students learn that growing our brains is going to make us more successful in life. So the next day – this was the morning message that greeted my students.
But first we would practice a new brain grower- Resilience, “When you have trouble, you bounce back and try again.” During this conversation, my students admitted that the challenge was hard and they too were tired after spring break. They promised to start again and when they finished , they would grab the 2nd challenge as well ( There is always 2 challenges – Level A and Level B) . And of course, they would show their thinking. This time they grabbed their pencils, math manipulatives and went to work.
And by working I mean real work. The answers didn’t come easy and no one was copying anyone else’s work. Soon the students who were struggling the most were working in groups and I got out my phone to ask a few how they were feeling.
Today, I’m looking over their work once again before sending it on to our Math Specialist. She will pick a “winner” for our primary and our 3,4,5 students.