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Anthony PurcellLast school year I had my 7th graders write their math autobiography to start the school year. I found it as a great way to get to know my students. To get us started on the book study this summer, let’s share our math autobiographies. Tell us about your math history and feelings about math.

Anthony PurcellThroughout elementary school, math was something that I enjoyed. I remember finding out at a young age how to find how old someone is by subtracting the year the person was born from the current year. I went home that evening and asked my parents what year they were born as well as many other people.
In fifth grade, my teacher Mr. Groves noticed a few of my classmates and myself seemed to understand the math concepts quickly, so he had as start a buddy group in class. During math time, he would have us work at our own pace going through the book. It was fun exploring math on our own and working together. We finished our math book in April and he gave us a 6th grade math book! It was so cool working ahead.
In middle school I was in 7th grade math while in 6th grade, which then placed me in Algebra as a 7th grader and Geometry as an 8th grader. Looking back, it was hard work, but it was a challenge that I enjoyed. I remember in 6th grade when I got a 100% on a test. It’s the ONLY time that happened. For some reason, I always make silly mistakes on tests.
As a teacher, I want students to understand math and have fun working with numbers and shapes. At the middle school age, students can start to hate math and my hope is that they learn to love it!

Adrianne BurnsI had a slow start to learning math. I remember in third grade I had to stay in at lunch and practice flash cards with the teacher. My friend Angie had to help me with my division. I just didn’t get it. Then I started to get good at math.
When I went to Junior High in seventh grade the teachers wanted me to skip a grade in math. My mom didn’t want me to miss anything important. I was one of those students who did what I needed to get a good grade and never more. In eighth grade I did skip a year in math and ended up in Algebra. I never had to pay attention before in math class. I just got it. This was not the case in Algebra. I did not pay attention when we were taught absolute value. I was confused for about a month. I know now it is one of the easiest concepts ever. I ended up with a B for first quarter. I dropped out of Algebra and went back to eighth grade math.
I did well the rest of my time in math. Looking back on it now, no one ever told me that learning and getting better at things takes work and practice. It sounds so simple, but I always thought either you get it or you don’t or maybe it seemed like too much work. I know my mom was trying to help me be successful, but it really just allowed me to be lazy and apathetic. I did fine in things but looking back if I had taken a little time and put forth a little effort I think of how much better I could have been at things like school, swimming, and violin and how that would have made me feel so much better about myself.
I am still slow at calculations. People assume because I teach math that they can throw a math problem my way and I can quickly find the cost of something or calculate the tip. I cannot. It has been my secret shame. I can relate to Tracy’s mom’s story. The more I realize what math really is the more I see my abilities and strengths (and how I can use my story to help my students).

All the feels on this one, Adrianne:
People assume because I teach math that they can throw a math problem my way and I can quickly find the cost of something or calculate the tip. I cannot. It has been my secret shame.
I hope you can let that go. Many professional mathematicians would say the same thing.
Thank you for your bravery. So glad you’re here.
Tracy


Elizabeth RaskinI don’t remember much about my relationship with math in elementary and middle school, but I’ll share the few moments I do (this is literally all I remember from K8):
~I remember being really bad at timed tests. I have a memory of using Holy Cards in 5th grade and maybe getting half way through in the allotted time when others completed with time to spare. To this day I struggle with many multiplication facts (7’s are the worst!) and use my fingers to add and subtract when I’m being lazy (I blame muscle memory.)
~I remember doing the St. Jude mathathon and loving it.
~I remember being chosen to participate in a local math competition and going into Honors Algebra my freshman year in High School even though I don’t remember ever really learning math (I must have, though. My guess is I was good at following directions and taking tests.)
I think once I started in the Honors track in High School is when I realized that I was good at math…not genius…just good. I loved proofs in Geometry. I loved balancing equations in Chemistry. But it was my physics class that put me on the path to where I am now. In Senior year physics we were learning about forces and I was just not getting it. So I asked question after question with my teacher pretty much tutoring me in front of the class until I finally understood.
My teacher asked the class “How many of you understand this better now?” Everyone raised their hand. “And that’s why we ask questions. Thank you, Elizabeth, for having the courage to ask.”
“Yeah, thanks”, said a few students. I was not a popular kid, but my teacher made me feel like the most important person in the world with that little comment. So it was a combination between my teacher and the material that made me decide I wanted to take physics in College. Then….after my first physics class I realized it wasn’t physics itself, but the mathematics embedded inside that I loved. So, I decided I wanted to teach math.
As an adult, I had wonderful professional development through the district I worked at in Arizona. I became our school/district math liaison which allowed me to attend many amazing professional development sessions to gain that deeper understanding and love of math I didn’t get as a child. To this day my learning, questioning and quest for understanding of mathematics continues.
(Full disclosure…I used my fingers to solve the Math Captcha to submit this post.)

Elizabeth,
I’m so happy you had this teacher!
My teacher asked the class “How many of you understand this better now?” Everyone raised their hand. “And that’s why we ask questions. Thank you, Elizabeth, for having the courage to ask.”
I had the opposite experience, in 11th grade, when I asked and asked because the teacher’s explanation of radians was so confusing. The student behind me poked me with her pencil and said, “Shut up, Tracy, or she’ll keep us late!” The teacher was still explaining radians (the same exact way, again, only less patiently), but I heard nothing. Still don’t understand them.
I need to do something about that!


Alexa FulmerI have always loved math. In elementary school I got in trouble in 1st or 2nd grade for being on the wrong page of my workbook. I explained that I had already done the others. My teacher took my book and looked through it. She then went and got me a different workbook. I worked on it on my own whiles the others followed the teacher. I played my Little Professor calculator game all of the time to see how fast and hard I could set the problems without making mistakes. I loved word problems but there usually weren’t that many of them. I was good at remembering algorithms as I look back.
I had a bonus feature at home and that was my dad. He would ask me how much to figure out discounts at stores to pass the time as my mom shopped and how did I do it. He would have me estimate the total bill while shopping and while we were out to eat. This was all fun and a game to me. We both liked numbers.
In middle school I got placed in the honors track of math thanks to my parents going to Meet the Teacher Night. I had missed the test the year before because I moved into the district late in the year and although I had scored in the 99 percentile on the IOWA tests, the district was sure they were way ahead of my previous one. This opportunity allowed me to take trig, calc, analytical geometry, and prob & stats my senior year. I was super prepared for college…or so I thought!
College calc almost did me in because my professor wanted me to explain my thinking…WHAT?! (Not doing all my homework or showing up for quizzes factored in a bit too) I didn’t like to write at all back then and that’s why I liked math. I could just DO it! Most of it made sense and that which did not, I just memorized a formula or algorithm. I went to Dr. Stonewater and told him that I knew how to det an answer, I just couldn’t put it in writing. His response was, “If you can’t explain it, you don’t really know it.” I was pissed but determined to do what I had to do to pass and I did. But then I tried some higher level math classes and there were some language barriers with those professors. I couldn’t understand what they were telling me to do and I didn’t put much effort into figuring it out myself. So, I decided to not do secondary math ed but rather elementary ed. This is when math started to make sense!
I was lucky enough to have Dr. Stonewater again for a geometry class for elementary teachers. This was the first class that challenged me and really got me to think about math and how it worked. I remember trying to classify quadrilaterals using the fewest words. There were many great “aha” moments in his. I got an A in that class. Dr. Stonewater told me that it was so nice to have the real me in class. Before I was just there, but now I was really there. My math methods teacher was amazing too and pushed us to move beyond the traditional ways of teaching that most of us had been taught.
I am lucky to work for a large, progressive district that has provided opportunities for some tremendous professional development over the years. My next big breakthroughs came from Connected Math training and Math Solutions workshops I did early in my career. I had so many “aha” moments it was crazy. It fueled my fire to learn more. I continued to seek out opportunities to learn about students learning through investigations and problem solving.
Then the absolute best opportunity came with Vermont Mathematics
Initiative (VMI)! Through a tremendous grant our district was able to bring all of the great people and curriculum of this program to Cincinnati. This is where my understanding of math was able to take on a whole new level. It got me into action research and the power and importance of reading. It got me to see that elementary math was not beneath me or something I settled with because I wasn’t good enough to “get” the higher level of math.Moving from 7th and 8th grade math to 4th and 5th grade has been a wonderful experience. I have learned so much! This summer I get the opportunity to work with our K/1 students for summer school for 20 days. I can’t wait to see what I learn from them! I have been studying and finding problems to hopefully let them investigate the beauty of mathematics!

Jodie BaileyHi, Alexa! Did you by chance go to Miami University? I think Dr. Stonewater is the professor I had when Calculus began to make some sense! Looking back, I wish I’d stuck with it. He was one of the best math teachers I had!

Alexa FulmerI did! He was great!

What a wonderful comment and story. Thanks for sharing the real you here, too!
It reminded me of Liping Ma’s work, which I wrote a little about at the end of CH8. If and when you get to it, I’d love to know if it resonates, if you have a sec.
Best,
Tracy

Jodi McEachronAlexa, reading your experience was like I was reading my own math biography. Your experience was exactly the same as mine. I loved math because I was great at doing it and memorizing. I aced Geometry by memorizing all of the sample proofs and duplicating them. I also thought I was going to go into secondary math education and ended up switching to elementary ed. I was also the kid who always asked “why”. I knew how to get the right answer, but I wanted to know why it worked. None of my teachers knew. They would get angry and tell me that it was just the way you do it. As I have been immersed in the professional development side of things, I have been very excited to discover the “whys” for many of my previously unanswered questions. I loved math before because I could get it right. I LOVE math now because it is fascinating!! Thanks for sharing.

Colleen RoyI was a middle school math teacher for 14 years, teaching 6, 7 and 8th grade before becoming a math interventionist for 2 years and finally an elementary principal/math coach, which is what I’ve done for the last 3 years. I LOVE my role as math coach for our 8 district elementary schools and wish that it could be a full time position because I don’t feel that I do either role justice because my time is always divided.
Since becoming an interventionist I have been trying to learn new ways to support struggling learners and have spent a lot of time figuring out what works for all students. I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter what curriculum you are usinggood teaching is what makes the difference for kids succeeding or failing in math. I’m finishing my 3rd year with the Vermont Mathematics Institute through the University of Vermont and have learned SO MUCH about best teaching practices in math. I’ve also been working with the OGAP project and have brought this training on formative assessment to our district over the last two years. These two opportunities were game changers for me.
Now this book?! Wow. I’m going to run a book study for teachers next year using it. Our other district math coach and I had already decided to focus on best teaching practices and supporting teachers with “how to become the math teacher your kids deserve” and this book is giving me all kinds of ideas that tie in beautifully to what we are already doing. Loving it!


David StolfusMy story begins by being, somehow, identified as a ‘Mentally Gifted Minor’ (What a moniker to place on a kid, right??!? 🙂 ) I recall math being easy, sometimes fun, but mostly unremarkable for the first seven years of school. My guess is that I quickly picked up on most concepts at that time and my teachers, probably, didn’t have to do much to ‘teach’ me anything. Enter Mr. Lee and seventh grade algebra (or whatever it was at the time). Uh oh… I didn’t just ‘get it’ for the first time in my life. Mr Lee’s favorite technique was to explain things the same way he already had, only louder, then dole out some sort of extra work when I still didn’t ‘get it’. Apparently I was not trying hard enough. Long story short, math became torture for me for many years to follow, but I overcame! 😉
Looking back and thinking about students in my own classroom (mostly fourth grade) over the last twenty years, I feel like my story is not an uncommon one. I work every day to try to make math interesting, dynamic, and fun for the students. I’m excited to join this conversation and work toward that ideal mathematical classroom!
David,
I’m so glad you didn’t let Mr. Lee kill math for you!
Tracy


Jodie BaileyI love that we’re introducing ourselves with math biographies! I was considered a “strong” math student through 7th grade – and was placed in an 8th grade math class when I was in 7th grade. Upon later reflection, I wasn’t a strong math student but rather a good memorizer. When I took Algebra in 8th grade, I struggled to keep up with the class. I didn’t understand what the teacher was talking about and my memorization tricks didn’t seem to help. While I was a B student, I never felt that I understood the material.
All through high school, I relied on memorization to get me through and was able to maintain an A or B. (Which is evidence that grades don’t reflect understanding!) Geometry was particularly tough – I’d get parts of the proofs correct because I had memorized the ones we’d practiced in class. But of course, those exact examples were never the ones on the test. After taking Calculus my senior year, I was ready to be finished with math! However, in college I was required to have a certain number of math credits so I retook Calculus. The material finally started to make some sense – but I didn’t have the interest to stick with the material beyond that one course.
When I switched my major to education, I didn’t take any more math courses other than the required methods course. I viewed mathematics as a set of procedures to be memorized and didn’t see much purpose other than to perform well on tests. When I started teaching and there was a reason to have to cancel a subject, I was always happy to cancel math! (My current self cringes at that statement – but knowing where I came from gives me tremendous empathy for elementary school teachers who suffer from math anxiety.)
My views about mathematics were changed when my principal asked me to attend a Math Teacher Leader meeting. If hadn’t been my first year of teaching, I would have declined. But I didn’t want to disappoint my principal so I went. During the meeting, we were asked to try a discovery lesson with our students. While my students didn’t get the correct answer, they were closer than I expected. Their thinking about the problem ignited my curiosity and I was eager to learn more about how my students thought about math.
From that experience, I went on to attend as many professional development offerings about math as I could and eventually went on to get my doctorate in mathematics education. I am a firm believer in social constructivism and having students build knowledge based on how they perceive the problem and the mathematical content. I learn most when I listen to students – they have the most amazing ideas! I’m excited for this book talk to learn with all of you!

Wow, what an amazing journey you’ve taken! I’m so inspired!
Tracy


Laura WagenmanMy first memory of math class is 3rd grade. We had weekly timed tests and I struggled to remember facts after the 5 facts. Anxiety took over and I froze. I had a sheet under my leg and cheated my way through the year. My next memory was in 4th grade when my family took me on a family vacation and I missed the long division unit. When I couldn’t figure out how to to it, I was given more practice problems that I had no idea how to solve. I remember feeling frustrated and discouraged as I couldn’t figure it out.
Even with these experiences, I didn’t have any feelings positive or negative about my math ability. It was when my 6th grade teacher nominated me for acceleration, that I began to believe in my ability. I soared through each of the classes as people withdrew from the accelerated track. Algebra was a fun puzzle to solve and spending time trying to figure out the mystery was a favorite part of my day. Geometry caused me to pause and question my ability but Trigonometry reinforced that I belonged. Then came Calculus and I didn’t understand anything. I worked with the teacher, asked friends for help, studied extra hard, but nothing worked. I passed with a B but I can’t tell you a thing I “learned.”
I didn’t really think about myself as a math person again until I attended Rational Number Project training nearly 20 years later. I felt confident as a 5th and 6th grade teacher as we took the pretest until I was asked to write a word problem for multiplying fractions. I had no idea what to do and realized I was a rote memorizer. The training bolstered my desire to learn the why for all of mathematics. I got active on Twitter, following teachers across grade levels. My love of math has grown exponentially and I share this love with my 1st grade daughter and anyone willing to listen.

Anthony PurcellIt’s frustrating when some math teachers feel the solution to helping someone who is struggling is to give them more problems to solve. Doing more of something you don’t understand is not going to be successful. We need to sit with them and help them figure out how to solve it their way.

Amazing. I’d love to hear more about the RNP training. I’ve heard only great things about them!


Ramona PriesterI really don’t remember much about math in elementary school other than when I learned how to do long division. I was so enamored with learning how to divide by a single digit that I started to create my own division problems with very long dividends. So I was doing something like ten digits divided by one digit long division. I loved that a single problem would take up an entire page and showed one to my teacher, who then showed it to the class because of the patterns she was noticing in it. Later on, in 6th grade, I finished the textbook early so the teacher gave me an algebra text to work on by myself. I remember being confused when reading about x as a variable and had to study that part for a while before I understood that x could represent any number.
I never had any problems in math, received great grades, and loved high school geometry! Working through the proofs was just like doing a puzzle to me. However, I took only the minimum required courses to meet college requirements which meant my junior and senior years were math free.
Then college started. I had to take placement tests for English and math and, low and behold, my math scores were so low I had to take 3 quarters of remedial math before I could take the college level math courses! Unbelievable! I had just graduated as valedictorian of my high school! The whole “use it or lose it” concept applied to me; I had forgotten so much math.
Now as a teacher and instructional coach, I’m continuing on my journey learning about math. I’m thoroughly enjoying learning more about how math works, strategies to teach it, and in awe of all the math people who have blogs and twitter accounts that I follow. There is so much to learn, and I’m glad to be along for the ride!

Tricia BuysThank you for your honesty, Ramona! If you were valedictorian of your high school class and still had to take remedial math classes your freshman year in college, that’s a powerful message showing that memorizing procedures is not serving students well!

Agreed. Fascinating!


Kari FiutakMy lack of memories about math in school says everything one needs to know about my experience. As a kid, I enjoyed all kinds of things that are all about math, though I never understood the connection until years later. I played the piano and read music. I was a quick study for knitting and crocheting. I was fascinated by sewing, quilting especially. And yet for many years I believed I was not a math person and not especially good at math.
By the end of the first quarter of math in 7th grade, I had a 68% average and was terrified that I might not be a good student after all. My teacher talked to me solemnly, though I don’t remember her advice, and by the next marking period I had a 98% average in math. I didn’t especially like math class, but I had cracked some sort of code for getting a good grade.
In high school, I became very active in theater and the arts. I have no memories of any high school math courses. No struggle, no ease, no nothin’! By the time I got to college, I decided to get a B.A. in English which helped me be one of the most literate waitresses in town. Two years later, I went back to college to become an elementary teacher, one of the wisest and most satisfying decisions in my entire life.
My elementary teacher preparation program featured a sitebased component and several of my classes met in elementary schools where we partnered with classroom teachers to explore the content. I had incredible experiences tinkering with reading, writing and behavior management strategies in schools all around the community. There was no such placement for work in mathematics, so our single class about the topic, Methods of Teaching Science, Technology AND Math, occurred on site at the college.
After 19 years in the classroom, most of which involved teacher leadership opportunities around language arts, grappling with the CCSS helped me to understand that I had gaps in my capacity as a math teacher. I began to study elementary mathematics with fervor and asked my principal and school leaders for a coach to help lift the work in our district.
By the time the coaching position was posted, I had raised my capacity enough to qualify for the job. Now I focus solely on math in my district and passionately advocate for building deep conceptual understanding of mathematics. It’s not always easy. I’ve been in the position for two years and just last week, a principal told me that math achievement is really about reading ability and after we get all our students on level for reading, maybe then we could enjoy the luxury of looking at math instruction in our classrooms.
But my experiences with teachers and children around math have been powerful. And I am so appreciative of the incredible community available via technology and conferences. I feel I have unlimited resources for nourishing my learning and mission to grow joyous and powerful math learning in elementary schools. Thank you to everyone participating in this book study and the broader math learning community! It makes all the difference to me to hear your stories and tackle this work together.

Wow, what a great story, Kari. Your love of quilting but feeling that you weren’t a math person reminded me of this awesome ignite from Annie Fetter, a tribute to her mom: https://youtu.be/BZ3xm0hipIg
That comment from your principal, though. Crushing. We have so much work to do. Together!
Tracy


Christina ShermanI attribute my love for Mathematics to my family! I grew up playing board games and cards that always stretched my thinking and strategies. In fact, Cuisinaire rods were a goto “toy” for me when I was a child! 🙂
In fifth grade, I took the test for our TAG (talented and gifted) class, but I didn’t quite make the cut. Instead, I stayed back in my regular classroom, but worked at my own pace. Mrs. Cobb’s method of differentiation (in the 70’s) was sending me to a file cabinet full of worksheets. I was to complete worksheet #x, check in with Mrs. Cobb, then complete worksheet #x+1 (and repeat). In 5th grade Math was just worksheets and algorithms to me — and I was “good at math” if I got through that file cabinet of worksheets.
I felt “behind” in Middle School when all of my TAG friends were in an advanced class doing cooler projects and problem solving than I was in my regular classes. I continued in this “A” track (one level below honors) throughout High School – until I made the leap!
My sophomore year, I had a Geometry teacher, Mr. Staudt, who pressed the limits of what a Math class should look like and feel like. It was here that I got turned onto Mathematics as a student! I was no longer just “doing” mathematics, I was “thinking” mathematics! After this experience, I knew I wanted to push myself into the Honors track. I knew the leap wouldn’t be easy, but I wanted to try! I struggled my Junior and Senior year in the Honors classes, but I wouldn’t trade this experienc for the world!
As I’m reflecting now… I’m wondering if I struggled in my Math classes because the expectation was just to “do as the teacher does” instead of more problemsolving focused?
I headed to college as an Engineering major and I continued to struggle in my Calculus courses – until Calculus 3 when it all came together! Throughout my college career I changed majors and career paths. I got defeated in Analysis and Statistics classes, but my love and passion for mathematics persevered!
As a student, I thought Mathematics was just DOING. In fact, I think I started my teaching career 23 years ago with that same philosophy for my own students (UGH)! Our standards are pushing teachers and students to redefine their Math classrooms — I’m so jealous of today’s students, but I’m glad to be part of the revolution as a Mathematics Consultant/Coach demanding more than I ever got as a student!

I’m so glad you persevered, Christina, but boo hiss on that tracking system!
I think it’s amazing that you’ve found your way to deeper and more meaningful teaching and learning of mathematics, rather than the DOING that you experienced. So great.
Tracy


Barb WeidusThis is embarrassing but here goes: I was really good at timed tests and facts. Of course that was all we did in elementary grades 14. At grade 5 we started with “new math” otherwise known to us students of the middle/late 1960’s as SMSG math. Lost. Never learned how to do percents, ratios, etc. It was like moving to Mars and not knowing how or why you got there!
In Jr. High, I tested into “collegeprep” math so I was able to finally leave SMSG math behind and move onto algebra in 8th grade. I rocked it!! Lots of A’s.
I got to Geometry and was lost again. But thinking back, I totally went from Level 0 in van Hiele skipping Level 1 and parts of Level 2. This time I was on the moon – knew how I got there but not why I was there. We then moved to Trig where I survived only to get sent to Neptune with Algebra 2. I totally dropped it – I had my math credits, I was done.
In elementary education courses, I finally understood base 2 that they tried to teach me in grade 6. Huh! I actually enjoyed math for the first time; we did projects, had discussions….
When I started my teaching career, it was literally by the book – textbook. In 1992, we elementary teachers were told to teach using “handson” methods. Say what? Our district offered us a two week course through Miami University that was amazing! I never used a textbook with fidelity ever again. I won an award here in Ohio for my math teaching. I was even nominated for the Presidential award!
Ten years later, I became a math consultant at an Educational Service Center. I did workshops, I coached, I helped write revisions to Ohio’s Learning Standards for Mathematics. I love learning again with Graham Fletcher, Robert Kaplinsky, Steve Leinwand, etc. I can’t wait to share with others and learn along with you.
I always make sure I go to NCSM for the latest in math research and methods. That’s where I met Tracy and embraced her saying, “Embrace that little voice.” Thank you for sharing your expertise, Tracy!

What a roller coaster, Barb! So glad you’re here and can’t wait to keep learning with you.
Tracy


Kathy FeltHi everyone,
I have always loved math! I wanted to be a math teacher ever since I was little. I made my brothers sit through math class every time we played school! It must have worked: 2 of them are engineers and 1 is in upper management. However, when I told my HS guidance teacher I wanted to be a math teacher, he told me I would be wasting my talents by going into education! Can you believe it? So, I went into Business Administration. After working successfully in that field for 15 years, I returned to school to get my education degree. I haven’t looked back!
Professionally, I teach 8th grade math and Algebra 1. I was a district math coach 2 years ago, but I missed the classroom too much, and returned last year. I also teach half time (adjunct) at a local university: elementary and junior high math methods. It is a pleasure to help prepare future educators.
I am a completely different math teacher today than when I started. I love the inquiry/task approach for students. I am an avid #MTBoS follower and huge Common Core supporter. I love getting my students to think, even if they don’t want to! There are so many great things happening out there–and I want them happening in my room too!

So glad you made it back to math education, Kathy! Looking forward to learning together.
Tracy


Jeff SieversHello Everyone,
I really don’t remember much about my early mathematics education. I do remember that in grades K4 I struggled academically but somehow in fifth grade it all just “clicked”. Whereas previously I struggled with concepts they now all seemed so simple. I have no idea what happened…. In my stories I attribute it to Mrs. Pogue and the fact that I never saw the light of day for recess for all of fourth grade! You see I had what they called “self control” problems. Maybe I had ideas to share and nobody wanted to listen so that is why I was so designated.
I can’t honestly tell you why everything “clicked” in fifth grade either. Maybe I finally decided to attend to what the teacher was saying or maybe I had a teacher who valued what I was thinking and listened or maybe I just finally decided that they don’t care what I think so memorize the formulas and get on with it. At any rate, math became relatively simple from that point on. I can’t remember a single teacher with great impact, nor a concept that was overly exciting or challenging. I guess I just plugged along getting good grades and keeping everybody happy. I read some of your stories and feel like I missed something. It’s a weird thing….and one that motivates me to be more, to be memorable, not just an average teacher.
Upon graduating from college I entered the business world armed with my finance degree and ready to conquer the world! Ten years later I grew tired of pushing papers from one side of the desk to another and crunching numbers to determine the relative solvency of this agency or that so I left, went back to school and became a teacher myself. I have never regretted the decision for a moment.
As a multiple subject teacher I loved teaching Language Arts! It was so much fun teaching kids to read and write. There was so much I could do in a creative way. I could reach into the brains of those kids and get them to imagine and create wonderful things. In math……it was get out the textbook, teach the lesson (algorithm), clarify, do some practice problems move on. No real creativity, no discussion, no sharing of ideas. I did everything I could to make each child successful, but did I really help them develop as mathematicians? If I’m honest….no.
Then came the CUE Conference in 2015 and I saw Dan Meyer for the first time. He was interesting and had some cool things to say. He began to make me wonder about my math teaching. Could I do those types of interesting problems with elementary kids? Truly engaging problems that caused kids to dig deep and be creative. Fast forward to NCTM 2016 in San Francisco. Jo Boaler, Robert Kaplinsky, Sherry Parrish, Graham Fletcher. My math teaching world would be turned upside down by their thoughts and ideas! I no longer wanted the textbook. I was convinced there was a better way!
Since then I have become an instructional coach for my district and my teaching philosophy has continued to evolve, especially in mathematics. I’ve read more books in the last year (alright, purchased more….still in the process of reading). I preach that we must involve kids in the discussion of mathematics and we must make it interesting and relevant (who buys 64 watermelons?). We (the coaches) talk to staff about growth mindset, number sense, procedural fluency, concept development and application. We push teachers to raise the “depth of knowledge” in their lessons. We emphasize with our teachers the power of mistakes and analyzing what is going on in the heads of our students to correct misconceptions.
In short, after 28 years, I feel really good about teaching math and coaching how it can be done. I was competent before, but now…..I just might be remembered by one of my students (or teachers) as being someone who made a difference. Maybe as a teacher they would like to be one day. I am looking very forward to sharing this journey with all of you.

Jeff,
This is an amazing reflection on your journey thus far, and where you’re headed. Thank you for sharing it all.
Tracy


Kenny HallI was a big fan of sports as a young child. This helped me to develop number sense, because of all the stats, scores, etc. I used to have notebooks full of scores and stats. I was very quick with numbers and basic operations. It served me well in elementary math. As I moved through school, my foundational understanding of number and my willingness to follow directions continued to serve me well in math classes. I was considered to be “good at math.” Even my test scores and SAT supported that claim. I decided I wanted to be a math teacher. Then, my 2nd semester in college, I hit my mythical “math wall.” It was called Calculus II. I had trouble understanding the professor and I started to fall behind. I compounded that problem by skipping some classes. And so I decided to change my major. I graduated a few years later with a BS in Kinesiology from Indiana University. I made my way to California and still was interested in teaching. I enrolled in a Credential Program at the University of Redlands. I was introduced to theories such as the Zone of Proximal Development and Cambourne’s Conditions of Learning. I also found a passion for teaching early literacy. Shortly after that I was introduced to some of the work of Kathy Richardson in mathematics. My passion grew to early literacy and early numeracy. Nine years into my career, I found my way to kindergarten. Eleven years later, I am still there, continuing to build my understanding of mathematics. I have been greatly influenced from reading and meeting some wonderful people and mathematicians. That list includes: Kathy Richardson, Ruth Parker, Cathy Fosnot, Christina Tondevold, Jo Boaler, Kristin Gray, Tracy Zager, and Graham Fletcher. I am constantly reading, networking, learning more and more about teaching. I love to go to the CMCSouth Conference each fall. I used to read the descriptions of the sessions, but now I am the kind of person (like Robert Kaplinsky says) that chooses sessions by who is facilitating them. I look for names of people that will challenge me to think and to challenge me to make a difference for the students in my classroom. I am on the road to becoming that math teacher. I am excited to continue learning from this book study.

I’m so glad you’re here, Kenny! And I hope we can talk more at CMCS this year. Kindergarten is a fascinating world and I have a ton to learn from you.
Thanks for sharing your story.
Tracy


Hana MurrayMy experiences, in elementary through high school, with math were relatively positive. I enjoyed math throughout my schooling; however, I really did not fully understand it and did not see that there was more to math than just memorization. I was great at following and memorizing procedures. Once in a while the reasons for doing those procedures were made clear, but more often than not, I just used the formulas and learned tricks in order to solve problems.
As I started teaching, I realized that in order to help my elementary students to get better at math, I needed to dig deeper. I wanted to develop a deeper math understanding for myself. And the journey began. About a year ago I came across Jo Boaler’s book Mathematical Mindsets and embarked on an amazing journey. I started to see math in a different way, associating new words with math, such as playfulness, creativity, intuition, delight, full of discovery, and beautiful, to mention a few. My hope is to bring this joy to my students.

I’m inspired by your journey, Hana!
Tracy


Catherine SchulteMy family moved after 2nd grade – new school. Looking back, students were ability grouped and before school started I was “tested”. The worksheets were handed to me – one at a time – and my directions were to stay seated, complete the worksheet and raise my hand if I had questions or finished so the next sheet could be given to me. Pressure was on as I raced to complete the sheet BEFORE the teacher could sit back down at her desk. I was placed in the top group. However, in 4th grade, I struggled with estimation. I had no clue why I needed to estimate when I clearly knew how to do the calculations. It was never explained and I was given another book and assigned the chapter on estimation without any instruction. I just did it – working every problem assigned and then estimating what I thought was wanted. The family moved again before 6th grade and the new school experience – whole group instruction, page by page. Each year, the new teacher would cut me a deal, allowing me to do “2 of the A problems, half of the B problems and all of the C problems” – in the back of the classroom, by myself. I took the test when I was ready, always staying ahead of the class. I had the traditional sequence (Alg 1, Geo, Alg 2) at my parochial high school, however a scheduling conflict prevented me from taking the Trig 4th year course. At the time, Calc was not offered at the all girls Catholic HS and there wasn’t a big push for us to take a 4th year course.
I majored in Elem Ed with a Reading endorsement and I argued with my advisor to also allow my elementary math concentration. I taught primarily middle school mathematics but am sad to say that I was very procedural in my early years. I like to think that I evolved over time but I know I still a great deal to learn. An intense professional development opportunity was instrumental in beginning my transition while I was still in the classroom. Since taking on my role as consultant/coach, I have concentrated my time on elementary math and helping teachers gain confidence while taking risks in their classrooms.

Catherine,
I think we all have to work on moving away from the procedural way we were taught. It’s hard work, but I believe in us! Thank you for sharing your story and learning. We’re in this together.
Tracy


Lori MathysI remember in elementary school being a “good” student in math. I could follow a set of procedures and solve number problems with accuracy. Our textbooks were filled with 50 of the same types of problems on a page, the teacher assigned every problem, I solved them diligently. THEN, there were always those 2 word problems at the bottom of the page. I usually either skipped them (only 2 on the grade) or guessed at the answers (2 muffins?? 6 cats??) Who knew? My answers didn’t make sense because I had no idea how to even begin to approach the problems.
My older brother was a “whiz” at math. I realize, now, that he just had more mental math strategies, more number sense, and wasn’t afraid to approach problems. He is an engineer today, as he loved math and pursued that path.
Since I was a pretty strong math student when it came to following algorithms, I did well and was tracked into the Honors/AP math classes all through junior high and high school. By the time I got to AP Calculus, I was pretty lost, not having many problem solving skills, not really understanding the basics of the classes before, and getting by with pretty good grades because of the curves of grades. My brother had taken AP Calculus with “Dr. Buss” two years before. He earned 100% on every test and never completed one problem for homework. Dr. Buss began a new grading practice that you couldn’t get higher than a “C” if you didn’t do homework the next year. Anyway, on the side of every test answer sheet he gave out after the test was finished and graded, he wrote all of the scores with the initials for the year before and two years before. So when you got the results back, you could see how everyone did on it. My brother’s initials were boldly at the top of every test with 100%. My scores were always the very bottom around the 15%20% mark. My self esteem was so low, and I did worse with every test because I felt like I was so inferior and everyone knew it. The day I cried in class was when Dr. Buss called me up to the front of the class to solve a calculus problem on the board in front of everyone. I tried, but I was completely lost. The entire time I was at the board, he berated me and called me “the dumb kid” in front of everyone over and over. At that point, I just gave up trying for the rest of the year. I continued to fail every test, but somehow still got a C in the class. I guess he didn’t want to answer to an administrator for me failing AP Calculus, so it was probably easier for me to get a passing grade that I didn’t earn. He also called me the dumb kid every single day, compared me to my brother out loud in front of everyone, and pretty much made me hate math and steered me away from any possible math based career. He was truly an awful teacher. The only joy I had that year was when the National Merit Finalists were announced over the loudspeaker, and the look on his face when he heard my name called was priceless. I think he thought I was truly a dumb person after calling me that all year long, so he was utterly shocked that I could be anything but dumb.
A teacher can make all the difference in a student’s school experience. I am definitely the math teacher I wish I had, not because I’m great by any means, but I’m certainly not crushing anyone’s self esteem!

Oh my goodness, Lori, I am so sorry. Dr. Buss sounds like an absolute monster. Horrible.
It feels good, though, to prove him wrong, doesn’t it? I had a teacher tell my mother, “Tracy has no aptitude for science, whatsoever.” I sent her a letter when I won a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to study at MIT. Screw her!
I think you’re amazingly brave for sticking it out and becoming the antiDr. Buss. Thank you.
And your first paragraph! Holy cow! So true for so many! That calculation that you made–that you should not worry about those two because they were only 2 points–that’s so smart and reveals how wrong the system was!
Tracy


Ann Elise RecordGrowing up, I succeeded in math class because I was able to follow the procedures taught to me. I vividly remember in 6th grade being able to correct my fellow students’ math sheets because I had finished early and gotten 100. I was an A/B student all the way through to Calculus in high school, but I know that I didn’t understand the topics conceptually. Just a few years ago, I asked my son, who was a Physics major, if he could describe Calculus to me in layman’s terms. He said, “Mom, it’s real life.” I certainly didn’t get that impression when I was learning it!
I earned an undergraduate BA degree in Sociology and then earned my MEd years later with K8 teaching certification. I taught 5th grade for 13 years. At the beginning of my time in the classroom, all I taught were algorithms and procedures because that’s all there was in my textbook and the accompanying worksheets. I remember our district had a math consultant visit for a few days and he showed me how every math concept could be taught visually. We used pattern blocks for fractions and area models with base 10 blocks for multiplication and my mind was blown! At first, my brain had to struggle to see the math this way, but after working on it over time my brain literally changed to think visually! I’m a huge believer in Jo Boaler’s work on growth mindset because I’ve experienced it myself! I think all learners needs to see things visually, not just “visual learners”. For so long, we locked out most of our students from being successful in mathematics because we didn’t teach things visually and make those connections.
A few years ago I began my journey as a Math Coach and am now a certified NH Math Specialist working in a grade 35 school with all the teachers and students. My dream job! When I began, I pioneered this position and made it what I wanted it to be, but it was pretty isolating since no one else had the same sort of position. (Our district has now added another one of me for the K2 school). Additionally, I spent half my week at the lower elementary K2 school. Having only taught 5th grade, I had a lot of learning to on early numeracy. And was there much to learn!!! I had no idea the expertise needed to teach math with conceptual understanding that truly forms the foundation for our students’ math journeys. Christina Tondevold’s Number Sense 101 course was integral into building my understanding of all the things we need our youngest kiddos to understand. Another major influence on my own math journey was the work of Dr. Nicki Newton and her Math Running Records, Guided Math, and Problem Solving. The more I learn the more I know I need to learn which is just so exciting!
Because of my isolation in my position, I turned to Twitter to build my own PLN and have learned so, so much from people like Jo Boaler, Graham Fletcher, Greg Simon, Sherry Parrish, Kristina Grey, Crystal Morency, Marilyn Burns, and all the fabulous people in Thursday night’s #Elemmathchat. I’m so appreciative for all I’ve learned and am continuing to learn.
A couple of years ago, I began teaching math methods courses as an adjunct at our local college. I am excited to have my college students in the fall participate in our own book study of Tracy’s book because I think it is so vital that we train our future teachers to feel comfortable with math and to pass on that love to our students. Most of my elementary preservice teachers admit to truly hating and despising math and some even have developed a phobia about it. But then they add on, “But that’s OK, I want to be a lower elementary teacher” or even worse “I want to be a special education teacher.” I love watching their minds change over the course of the semester as they participate in number talks and begin thinking about math in ways they never have before! They gain an appreciation for the important role they have in setting the foundation for our students’ math journeys as well as the important role our dispositions affect our ability to learn.

Ann Elise,
I’m so glad you’re here! You’ve clearly forgiven me for being the worst mentor in the world. Ha! I hope you understand why I was so busy during the blogging initiative–that was the final push to finish this giant book and I was flatout.
Anyway, I’m glad we can learn together here and now. I can’t wait to hear how your work with your math methods class goes. Chrissy Newell used Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had with her preservice teachers and learned a lot. Maybe you two could chat and let me listen in?
Tracy


Tammy SchultzI don’t remember much about my elementary math experience, but I do know that math was my favorite subject in school, and I did well in all of my classes. I can remember making punch in fourth grade when learning about measurement, because it was the only time math did not require paper and pencil. I can remember the time in fifth grade when I won the speed math challenge. I answered 3 addition, 3 subtraction, 3 multiplication, and 3 division timed sheets (all with 100 problems on them) with complete accuracy and the quickest of all students, because I felt recognized.
In junior high I was placed in the advanced 6th grade track among the other “special students” who were “smart”, and stayed there throughout high school. I completed my academic math career my senior year of high school by taking Calculus through Syracuse University. Because those credits satisfied the math requirements at the University where I was getting my bachelor’s degree , I never took another math class and graduated with a double major in Elementary Education and Theater. It never occurred to me to go farther with math or consider a career in mathematics.
In fact, math had served its purpose for me. It made me feel secure, and it made me feel special. I believed that there’s one right answer in math. No judgement. Your answers are right or wrong. You can do it well or you can’t. You’re “smart and special” or you’re not. In reading and social studies, someone might disagree with your interpretations and ideas, in writing and art your pieces are up for judgement, and I didn’t like being judged. You can see the trappings of a fixed mindset in my thinking.
As a teacher, math was my least favorite subject to teach. Most of my students weren’t like me. They weren’t happy to memorize and do what the teacher told them. Through my training in readers and writers workshop, I knew it was possible to know a subject well and to know your students well as readers and writers. Instruction in these areas was strategic and fulfilling. I began searching for a way to bring this empowerment to my math instruction. The only problem was that the presentations, conferences, and books I was being offered lead me straight back to traditional teaching with a few bells and whistles added in to make it seem like something new was involved. Then one day a colleague handed me Kassia Omohundro Wedekind’s <span style=”textdecoration: underline;”>Math Exchanges</span>. I began to read it and couldn’t put it down. Her ideas offered so many possibilities for teaching and learning, and more importantly, gave me a direction to explore other math educators. It was like a floodgate had been opened and I found myself reading book after book, being introduced to new authors and math thinkers. I also began visiting MTBoS, attending conferences, joining math circles, following blogs, presenting and coaching other teachers. I began learning the “why” for all of the” how” I could do, and it was addictive.
Holy cow! How exciting and empowering to realize that math is actually about sharing ideas, creativity, thinking deeply, exploring more than one right answer or strategy, and playing! The teachers who praised me as a growing mathematician didn’t know this, but I’m determined to make sure my students will.

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