Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Communicating Math - Communicating in the Classroom

This summer I am working in the Camp Fire West 4C Believe to Become program in Grand Rapids, MI. I am one of the assistant teachers. Everyday the students, who are all in 6th, 7th, or 8th grade, come into my classroom and I lead a math lesson for about 40 to 50 minutes.

It has only been a week and it has already been one of the more challenging weeks of my entire life. My biggest problem with these students is communicating with them. Sometimes they have trouble communicating their work to me and other times it seems that I have trouble communicating to them. Many of these students are in the Grand Rapids Public School system which is not always known for being one of the best school systems. Many of the students I have can't perform some simple tasks that they should have already known by this time in their school career.

The video I have linked is sometimes what I feel like when I am talking to them.

Today we played a game that involved solving simple calculations using fractions. Here were some examples of student work,

(3/4) + (4/8) = 7/11   There is no other work shown. It is clear that this student does not understand the concept of a common denominator.

(5/7) x (3/11) = 15/something. This student understood that when we multiply fractions, we multiply straight across. However they didn't know that 7 x 11 = 77.

(1/3) + (1/3) x (3/4) = (2/3) x (3/4) = 6/12. This student knows how to add and multiply fractions but was unaware of the order of operations. They did addition before multiplication which is not correct.

The fact that these students were unable to perform these simple calculations made me want to rip my hair out. It made want to go find their math teachers and smack them upside the head. There is no way that these student should not already know this material. 

Now it's not all bad. There were plenty of students that were able to play the game and succeed. They could do these simple problems and I could tell they were getting a little bored so I began to give more challenging problems such as below.

(2/3)^2 x (3/4) = (4/9) x (3/4) = (12/36)

It made feel much better to see that there was a chunk of students who understood the ideas. There were also some that informed that they understood the ideas better once I was able to show them how I thought about a problem. 

Overall this has been a good experience so far. I still have 5 more weeks with these students. Hopefully by the end of the summer, the students will understand these concepts much better. I am looking forward to continuing to work with them. This will be great experience as I will be student teaching in the Grand Rapids Public Schools this fall.


  1. Classic video.

    Careful about the teacher blaming. Sometimes we contribute, but a lot of times its outside forces, including the learner. (Which I guess is an inside force...) Having a student you've had before tell you that you did no teach them this is humbling.

    Sometimes it's almost trauma what they have experienced. Being told/forced to do things without any sense making, building a belief that they can't do it at all. I'd recommend this recorded webinar on Math Trauma for you, particularly.

    C's: 4/5
    Consolidation: so what are you going to do or try?

  2. Marty,
    What is crazy to think about, is that I seen this with adults in my previous position for the company I work for. A few years ago one of my tasks in my old position was to teach New Hires some basic manufacturing skills (how to use hand measuring tools, how to follow work instructions, etc) and since my company is global, we sometimes need to be able to convert between standard and metric measurements. Also, these new hires are taught how to convert decimals, fractions, percentages, etc. You would be AMAZED at how many adults struggle or cannot do those basic tasks. I bet, that in probably some of the cases you are dealing with, those kids might have the same type of parents as the ones that I had in class.

  3. This is interesting and I totally agree that GR doesn't have the best reputation for their education system. I have worked in classrooms in GR where the kids were years under where they should have been. It is frustrating at times but you have to just work with them and try to get them to understand the easier topics and move from there. This is a good post, but maybe include how you're going to work with them to help them learn.