As we begin a new year, and approach the start of the third year of this pandemic, I’m reminded yet again that life, especially now, is a marathon rather than a sprint. We know this in our brains and yet it’s hard to act on in our daily lives. What does it mean to live this perspective in the elementary mathematics classroom in 2022? I’ll start the conversation with these three thoughts and look forward to hearing your perspectives.
- First and foremost, we’re all people. As they remind us on the airplane, put on your own oxygen mask first, before helping others. Even in the face of such tremendous need, we must first honor our humanity in the classroom. This can take many forms – a pause for quiet reflection at the start or end of class, time set aside each week for checking in with our students, turning off email for a little while each weekend for a personal recharge. So many are in survival mode right now – what is your best way to find a moment of connection or a moment of personal space?
- In math class, this can also mean slowing the pace of instruction a bit. We will not recoup the “learning loss” of 2 years of a pandemic before the current school year ends. This isn’t a race. Don’t try. Students haven’t even lost any learning – the pandemic has changed the pace. Have students had losses in the pandemic? Certainly, but learning isn’t one of them. Math is a discipline where knowledge builds along many interconnected networks. If we race through content now in order to “catch up,” our students are likely to dislike math and have a greater struggle at some point in the future when this rapidly built and shaky foundation is no longer strong enough. Use these ideas to find focus rather than racing through content:
- What is most important to help students be successful next year?
- What important ideas are being consolidated in this course?
- How can I teach related ideas or supporting standards in integrated ways so I use time more effectively?
- To build a strong foundation, students need time to understand the whys of mathematics (why do I need to know this? Why does it work like this?) not just memorize. The brain still learns the way it learns – time for forgetting, remembering, and consolidation are critical. We cannot skip these phases just because the pandemic has made school feel like a sprint to catch up. Provide opportunities for practice over time. Encourage students to use strategies, to reason about problems, and to explore the whys of mathematics. In the long run, deeply learning some of the most important ideas will serve students better than skimming over everything with minimal learning.
All students can be successful mathematicians and learning math matters. It matters as a foundation for future school success and it matters as a foundation for life success. It’s critical that students love math and see its relevance across the curriculum and in their daily lives. If we push too hard, we’ll lose – and that means students lose. Give students time and space to be curious about math. The enthusiasm this generates will last a lifetime. Grace is the most important gift we can give right now – to our students and ourselves. We all deserve it.