Contemplating Math Instruction…

I have really been struggling lately with balancing “test prep” and quality math instruction.  Teachers begin to stress the test as early as the first day of school, but for many it is a balancing act of preparing students for the ever-looming MAP test and providing them with high quality math instruction.  At the beginning of the year we review our pacing guides, start a calendar to make sure we hit all the major points before March, and begin the mad dash to teach!  Although we have instruction days well into the middle of May, we rush to cram in as much as possible to be ready for MAP.  In my opinion, our new math curriculum adoption is a good one.  We use My Math and it does a very good job of providing conceptual experiences for students to build on as they move to more abstract concepts.  However, we have to cut out or glaze over many of the lessons in 3-5 in order to “fit it all in” before MAP.  Teachers struggle with this conundrum and are rightfully irritated that they must spend less time exploring and more time cramming.

We have been trying out inquiry based lessons and 3 Act Math tasks whenever we can find the time…which got me thinking…should we have to find the time?  Isn’t this the type of math we should be doing all of the time?

So I began digging into some word problems and watching students as they solved them.  What I realized (much like what Dan Meyer explains in his Ted Talk) is that although we have contextualized these problems to involve real world objects and scenarios, they are in fact, NOT real world math.  They are plug and play procedural drills.

Tonight my son was running a fever and I couldn’t find that little Tylenol measuring cup they give you with the medicine, so I looked on the back of the container and saw that I could dispense it to him in teaspoons or ml.  For his age and weight, he needed 1 1/2 tsp of medicine or 750 ml.  I found a plunger that had a marking for 500 ml, but the rest of the marking had worn off, so I had to determine how much more than 500 ml I would need.  Of course this is an over-simplified problem for a math teacher, but I have found that many students when faced with problems like this, have no way to start a solution.

So what are some of the hindrances teachers face when providing quality math instruction?  What are the answers?  If you could write the assessments, what would they look like?  Am I the only one who gets shivers down my spine when someone mentions “test prep?”

Assessments are fantastic planning tools.   They are necessary and integral to quality instruction.  I am responsible for providing professional development for teachers in mathematics and part of that job is helping them plan how they will prepare students for the MAP test.  I struggle with this on a daily basis.  My philosophy of teaching screams one thing and my state screams another!  I feel like I am selling out, but I also feel that I would be letting down my district if I didn’t push the prep.  I just wonder if we should stop more frequently to ask “what’s our purpose” when it comes to assessments.  Sigh.

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