At the NCTM National Conference back in April, there were a variety of speakers that challenged me to think about what it means for students to be mathematicians. Two in particular stand out to me as I look back. Christopher Emdin discussed how school mathematics denies students’ learned experiential mathematics, especially using the examples of “bars” (rapping) and learning to cook. Tracy Zager spoke about how to help students do math more like mathematicians. Her daughter’s ideas about what is means to do math were inspiring. These ideas have been spinning around my head over the past few months and when I saw a recent post on Twitter asking how we can set the tone on day one for the rest of the year, I got to brainstorming how I can make some of my typical beginning of the year routines fit more into this theme of helping students to think as mathematicians.
This idea is not completely developed, but I thought that the process of writing it out might help to solidify it as well as clarify my intents. Something that is important to me throughout the year is that students can identify patterns and consider what those patterns might mean. I want my students to have confidence going into the year that this is a skill that they already have experience with.
What I am considering is that rather than telling students about myself, they are going to look at some objects and pictures in order to draw conclusions about what they think is true about me. I could do this by having stations around the room or making up bags that get rotated around to table groups. A group of students will look at their objects in order to determine what they think is true about me. I might give them a simple sentence frame to help them make sure that they are backing up their statements – “We think that Ms. Stuckey ______________________________ because ______________________________.” For example, rather than telling students that I like hiking and that I traveled to Glacier National Park over the summer, I could set out my hiking shoes and backpack, my map from Glacier and maybe a few photos.
Is this mathematics in the strictest sense? No, but being able to look at “data,” find patterns in that data, and being able to justify an argument are all very mathematical skills and ones that I hope to be able to promote throughout the year. I don’t know whether I will end up actually doing this with my classes this year, but I would love to hear from others about how they are starting the year out setting the tone of encouraging students to be mathematicians (and to show that they already are).