Sunday, October 5, 2014

Voices of Students

Empowering Education- Ira Shor

I will admit it right off the bat, this was the hardest reading for me so far.  It wasn't just the length or small hard to read text.  I found this reading to be very word, without it needing to be, with many examples that did not differ much from each other.  Also, as a math teacher I am alway looking out for great ideas to bring back into my classroom but it always seems that articles, or PD sessions or example lessons always tie into English or social studies history classes.  

I want to empower education, I completely agree with Shor's list of empowering pedagogy: "Partcipation, Affective, Problem-posing, Situated, Multicultural, Dialogic, Desocializing, Deomacratic, Researching, Interdisciplinary and Activist." So I began to think how I could empower through participation and problem posing.  Problem-posing empowering really keys into the problem solving side of math and the new Common Core Math Practices.  But I couldn't see how I could start my school year off asking a bunch of middle school students: What do you want to learn in math?  My fear would be that they would say NOTHING.  In this day and age I feel that we do not need some of the same math skills that we have needed in the past, because there is so much access to technology.  But then I began to think of more high school math topics and how we could really get students involved in money and money management.  So many students go off to college and have to get loans, with out really knowing what they are getting their selves into, or get a credit card for the first time.  So why don't we teach students about these type of problems.  It is hard being a teacher sometimes and students ask you "what do I need to know this for?"  Sometimes I don't have an answer, here is an article about 5 Math Lessons You Don't Really Need (but are still taught).  

While I continued to research this topic of Problem-posing math issues I came across a neat website has "Real-world lessons from Mathalicious help middle and high school teachers address the Common Core Standards while challenging their students to think critically about the world."  It has lessons about increasing the horse power of an engine, how the urban population has change over time and how we will all fit on this planet.  I would love to be able to have my students pose questions that they have and see if we can find ways to mathematically solve them.  


  1. Thanks for the "5 Math Lessons You Really Don't Need"....I am laughing out loud right now. I am definitely not a math person, and that was always one of the most frustrating things about math class...I knew I would never use it again. I did take a look at the Mathalicious site as well....yes!!! That would have made math a whole lot more worthwhile, problems that were prevalent in real life that actually would need math to solve. Even just the fact that you are so concerned about finding ways to incorporate real issues into your classroom to make math seem more "usable" makes me think that Ira Shor would be proud. :)

    And yes, my stomach tightens a little bit at the utterance of that question, "when are we every going to use this?" even if I do have a legitimate answer...

  2. I have to admit, as I was reading Shor's chapter I was mostly thinking about English because that's what I teach. (obv!) But after reading your comments, Jenny, I think this type of problem based learning CAN and most definitely SHOULD be used in the Math classroom. Figuring out a way to teach in this way would certainly alleviate the problem of students constantly asking...Why do we have to learn this?? Not only that, but it would actually help students in THE REAL WORLD! It's fundamentally important to know how to do things like creating a weekly household budget or understanding credit card and car APR rates. I almost think it's more important to present math topics in a way that lends itself to the real world. Not that understanding universal themes in literature is not vital...because it is. It's just that mostly on a day to day basis we use math more. There...I said it.

  3. Like Tina and Melissa, I'm privileged with the spin of most examples in professional articles. Participation and problem solving seem like good places to start in a math classroom, but I know as an ELA teacher that I wish I did more interdisciplinary collaboration with my team. As I've said, I am doing my immigration unit and it would be awesome to analyze the numbers of immigration with my math teacher. We do have common planning time, but we are pulled in very different directions with Common Core, SLOs, and preparation for PARCC. She and I are also only in our second year teaching (and this is my first year in the district) so we are figuring out the basic expectations from our respective departments. It is difficult to adjust a curriculum when you barely have a sense of that curriculum to begin with!

  4. I was instantly drawn to the link "5 Math Lessons You Don't Really Need". As math people, we always get the "Why do we need to know this?" I tell students the truth. I always say "you may not EVER use this skill in your life (except to pass your high school math classes) but we want to know how numbers work, we want to know how we can become better problem solvers (not just math problems, but people and every day problems) we use logic, and be able to use our logic and transform it into reasoning skills.. which then leads to critical thinking." It is interesting how you might not EVER use any of the math skills on that website in our lives, but it gets us to think about using our logical senses in a different way.

    I going to bring my PBL (Project-based Learning) example in again. If students are giving a task that relates to them, they will naturally want to learn more. I think Shor does a good job at telling us, or reminding us, that students will want to know more. Piaget says "People are naturally curious... Education can either develop or stifle their inclination to ask why and to learn." We need to give students more than just knowledge, we need to lead them to want to learn more, so let's give it to them in a non-traditional way while using their critical thinking skills in their investigations.

  5. Jenny,
    I empathize with your assessment of the wordiness and length of this article, it seems Shor has relied often on others and redundant examples, to make his points. You however, have given us excellent examples of problem-posing in math, than you. I think mathematics has an excellent opportunity to expose kids to problem solving. I have always struggled with the idea of showing your work in math, if 7x6=42, than it does, why do I need to show work on this? For me, proofs in Geometry, were the breaking point, I avoided math whenever I could after that experience. Your link makes me feel validated in how I felt about that, but I do think there are some basic skills that every student should have. So how do we teach those skills while inspiring creativity, curiosity, and critical thinking? How can kids learn the concept of multiplication without learning the multiplication tables? I suppose it is based in the relationships between numbers. When I help my students with math, I always relate fractions to pizza, and decimals to money, and as for multiplication and division, I use money as well. But life offers us more complex ideas than money and pizza, I think the challenge with mathematics is getting the students to be able to jump from concrete thought to abstract, and it seems to me that readiness and maturity play an important role in their willingness and propensity for such endeavors.