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We are all mathematicians!

We are all mathematicians!
Catherine Gorman, Math Faculty

A day without math is like…just kidding, there is no such thing!

While I have been teaching and tutoring mathematics for decades, I am relatively new to Dana Hall’s Middle School. Since joining, I have been impressed with both the rigor of our mathematics program and the amount of meaningful support we offer our students in our 5th through 12th-grade math program. Dana Hall students head to college empowered with the knowledge that they are capable mathematicians!

If I hear a student say, "I can't do math," my inner Anne of Green Gables ignites, and one of my goals becomes to change that student's mind about themselves as a math learner. By providing opportunities for students to find success, it is my intention they will realize they can do it. As their success-induced confidence builds, I strive to redefine what math is for them. Math is fun, like a puzzle. Math is practical and able to help us make decisions and predictions. We use math every day; it is not an artificially isolated subject. 

"Isn't it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? … It wouldn't be half so interesting if we knew all about everything, would it?" 

Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Studying mathematics requires an open mind, a willingness to take risks, creativity, and problem-solving skills. These can be improved with practice. One of the methods I find beneficial in providing practice is the use of a well-designed exploratory lesson. This type of activity guides students to discover rules, laws, and theorems for themselves in an environment where they feel safe and comfortable taking risks, making mistakes, and trying again. These lessons can level the playing field for all; no one knows the answer, and everyone must investigate to see what they can discover. Because students work in pairs, they can collaborate and do not feel alone in their mission. I often remind students, "if you feel a bit uncomfortable during this exploration, then you are doing it correctly!" If students are reluctant to take risks, I often encourage them to think of just one thing they definitely know and then build on that. Reframing the activity as a puzzle or a game of discovery can also aid in this. For some students, this approach can feel daunting at first; it takes time for some students to realize they have the analytical prowess to discover all kinds of things.

In Dana Hall's Middle School classrooms, many walls are painted with Idea Paint, turning them into whiteboards. Throughout our 5th through 12th-grade math program, it is typical to see students at the boards discussing, reasoning, and thinking through a given challenge. Students can write and brainstorm as they observe their thoughts on the vertical plane while they compare ideas. 

"Next to trying and winning, the best thing is trying and failing." 

Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

These types of activities provide opportunities for students to experience the benefits of making mistakes. Errors help students rule things out and point to different approaches. Embracing mistakes instead of being fearful of making them can help create a shift in mindset, leading to resilience. This empowers students to realize they can figure something out before I teach it. This means they can always think their way back to the theorem at hand, without having to blindly memorize.

"It's been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will." 

Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

I hope to instill a love for math in my students. As they succeed, they will understand that they can do it!