The Dream of Education Part I
Part I Norms for Reading Our Blog
The goal of the Nepantla Teachers Community blog is to provide an honest and encouraging space to navigate sociopolitical situations that occur in mathematics education for the purpose of working towards justice in traditionally marginalized communities. By using the word political, we mean any situation that involves power dynamics.
Each post will be published in two parts (Part I: The first Saturday of each month at 5 PM and Part II: the following Wednesday at 9 AM). Part I will give a math teacher author’s real dilemma that they have recently experienced and to share some information about themselves. Part II will provide an analysis of the powers at play and the author’s response (or lack of response) to the situation. Before Part II is published, readers are encouraged to interact with the author and each other by asking questions, comments, and/or providing ideas on how they would respond if they were in their shoes.
We as readers and/or participants agree to keep the following in mind as we engage with other educators’ sharing their stories:
1. Each author is choosing to be transparent/vulnerable at the risk of disapproval or disagreement. These are not meant to be places of attack but a place to empathize and grow together.
2. We use the word nepantla to connote the space of tension and grey area that people experience as they navigate multiple (and often opposing) philosophies, truths, or identities. We offer this blog as a space to remain in nepantla to guide creative and nuanced responses to the contexts we encounter.
3. Note that all students’ names are pseudonyms. Some details may need to be obscured to protect the privacy of individuals.
Part I: (Written by Jennifer Dao)
On our trip to the Museum of Science and Industry to see the robotics exhibit, my principal asked me, “How do we bring this [robots, programming, etc] to our classrooms? This is their [our students’] world, and this will help engage them. How do we make our classes, for instance Algebra Excite, exciting for our students?” Algebra Excite is a 40 minute support class for students that struggle with math that they take in addition to their regular math class, recently adopted by my school district after de-tracking Algebra. Students often spend this time receiving interventions, but in reality they often do not do their homework and require time and attention to complete their homework.
At first when he asked me this, I took it a little personally, wondering, do you think that I don’t try to engage my students every day? I designed a weekly schedule so that students are not stuck with skill and drill practice everyday, allotting Wednesdays as problem solving days where students get to engage in mathematics through more playful ways such as playing Prime Climb, Set, Swish, and other spatial reasoning games as well as folding modular origami. I also reminisced on Sir Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity?
As a middle school algebra teacher striving to do what is best for all of my students, I full heartedly agree with him, but I am stuck in figuring out how we can make it happen in a high stakes testing world. It is important to note that principals who want awesome things to happen in their schools exist, and they want to spark innovation just as much as teachers. Nevertheless, this high stakes testing world has driven the school system to exhaustion, and it stunts creativity and innovation. As discussed in my Master’s degree program of Teaching and Inquiry, my professor Dr. Steven Wolk addressed that we have a 200 year old school system that still runs on a bell schedule with departmentalized subjects as if we are still preparing students to work in factories. In A Mathematician’s Lament, Paul Lockhart writes that mathematics is an art, but why is it not taught like art?
In my school district, we test students 3 times a year for MAP testing in addition to state mandated assessments such as PARCC. Not only do these tests take weeks away from instruction, it also limits teachers and students from experiencing school as an institution for creativity and innovation. I am so grateful that my principal is a visionary and wants what is best for students at the end of the day.
How would you respond to my principal after receiving his question about engagement?
(I first wrote about this tension in my Blog Post here.)
Part II of this story comes out next Wednesday at 9 AM. Subscribe to our blog and check it out. Comment below!