A New Math Mindset

 

When I was an elementary-school student, I hated math time. My brain didn’t work as quickly with numbers as many of my other friends and peers, and I felt that I was “bad” at math. Unfortunately, I had this misconception until I was 33 years old when I began my three-year goal study at Trinity School.

When I think back three years ago when I decided to focus on the math growth mindset for my goal, I can remember having a feeling of trepidation; however, I knew that I needed major growth in this area if I wanted to be a better math teacher myself. I began my journey by taking Jo Boaler’s online course, which is what I truly believe was the turning point in my philosophy about being “good” or “bad” at math. I not only learned that all math minds are different and have different speeds and ways of thinking about numbers, but I also came to believe in my own heart and mind that anyone can be “good” at math, including me!

It was at that point that I noticed a shift in the way I thought about math and taught it to my own students. I spent nights at home searching for math challenges for my students and myself and felt an invigoration when working hard to complete them. I shared this attitude in my classroom and soon noticed my students were working on these challenges during snack time, way after math time was over, because they wanted to persevere. Soon my twitter account was full of smiling student faces that were posing with pictures of their completed math work and I was hash-tagging the “math growth mindset” numerous times a week. We began celebrating our work together by charting our attitude and successes and in no time the students began using math vocabulary regularly when talking about math and even in other subject areas too! They understood terms such as “number flexibility” and felt excited to not only talk about it, but also prove they could do it.

One of the more exciting highlights from the past three years was when I read the book, Making Number Talks Matter, and began implementing number talks in my classroom. Number talks have been a wonderful teaching strategy that allows the students to feel comfortable with math and helps them appreciate the idea that there are many ways to solve a math problem. It also has helped me informally assess my students’ understandings and given opportunities for every voice to be heard in math.

The completion of my three-year goal study came with a feeling of pride, confidence, and a math attitude change. I have pride and confidence in my ability to teach math to a younger generation of students. Many of these students are young versions of myself who long to feel “good” at math, and I love being able to impart my own newfound math growth mindset on them.

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Sarah Hanzman serves the Trinity School community as a Second Grade Teacher. 

Peu à Peu

I find myself remembering in bits and pieces. The peeling paint of an ancient wooden door, the crunch of toasted bread smeared with butter, the gears of the glass elevator in our hotel lobby. My grant trip to Paris was an intense whirlwind that ended as quickly as it began. My family and I left on a Friday night and caught the red-eye from ATL to CDG. Fighting jet-lag and work-week exhaustion, we landed Saturday morning intent on making the most of this amazing opportunity. Each day packed with tours, tickets, and best-laid plans, the week flew by so quickly that I have trouble remembering the whole.

Back at Trinity, I stand in the semi-darkness of morning carpool duty twiddling the metro ticket still in my coat pocket.

A small memory comes swimming forward:

My brother Jack and I hop off our bus tour early so that we can catch the Paris Saint-Germain vs. Bayern Munich game. He had been looking forward to this match the entire trip and it just so happened to fall on his birthday. We dash to the nearest metro station only to come to a complete halt. I should rephrase that: I come to a complete halt. Jack, on the other hand, is bouncing on his heels waiting for me to translate the enormous rail map that glows ominously in the underground station. It is agonizing for him to wait while my brain decodes the French. Three days into our trip and I am slowly squeaking back into my language skills.

Another memory surfaces, sparked by Jack’s anticipation:

My dad, my step-mother, Jack, and I are in the basement of the Louvre. We have somehow made our way to the Egyptian antiquities wing and we are so far from the beaten path that the museum placards no longer provide English descriptions alongside the French. Jack points to a mummified head whose face is coated in gold leaf and asks, “That’s real, isn’t it?” Day four and I still have enough younger brother patience to keep from snapping back, “Of course it’s real, this is the Louvre.” Instead, I lean in to translate the long caption out loud to him. I speak slowly, reading each word carefully. Admittedly, I stumble over the complex museum terminology and completely skip the French version of the Egyptian words, but nonetheless, I am proud of my ability to wade through the paragraph. Finally, I stand up straight to meet his eyes and ask what he things about the mummy, but Jack has walked away in boredom: my translation too slow.

By day five and six I am proud to say had several successful all-French conversations. I cleared things up with the ticket-taker at Gare du Nord when our TGV tickets hadn’t been printed correctly. A French waiter and I discussed the aperitif my step-mother was looking for on the menu at a brasserie. I was even able to make a disgruntled taxi driver laugh when I explained that I often get my left and my right mixed up, no matter the language.

Little recollections edge back into my mind while I shower or walk the dog. A slow trickle that surprises me each time a family member calls to reminisce or a co-worker asks if I got to see their favorite spot. These become daily reminders to keep sacred my interests. Interests in art, language, and travel that help nourish my creativity and fuel my teaching. I look forward to welcoming every little memory as it resurfaces.

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Nina Chamberlain serves the Trinity School community as the EED art teacher.

Trail Magic

For my father’s 75th birthday a couple of years ago, my husband and four friends about our age joined him in hiking the “100 Mile Wilderness,” which is actually the top 120 miles of the Appalachian Trail in Maine.  They planned it for a couple of years, mapping out their meals, miles and carefully measured weights of their packs.  On the Friday before Labor Day, they left Atlanta to begin their ten day adventure.

My dad had always loved hiking and being outdoors, taking his own English students from McCallie and Westminster out on trails to read such poetry as Frost’s “Swinging from Birches” in places where they could actually try what the poem described. There is something about nature that restores our humanity in the midst of a world that often demands we operate more like machines, which is why the trail often sends hikers home more alive than when they began.  While the unaccosted beauty of nature does so much to heal one’s soul from the constant barrage of daily demands and responsibilities, the isolation from people for my extroverted dad in his early 20’s prematurely ended his first attempt at completing a solo hike of the entire AT.  So, it was this mission of completing what he’d set out to do so long ago, but this time with a “band of brothers,” that compelled them to go.

One of many special things about the Appalachian Trail are the traditions of the trail, such as hikers abandoning their real names and going instead by nick names, provided by others in the group, by which they are known up and down the trail.  There are also certain accepted mantras, like “hike your own hike,” which gives each explorer permission to accomplish what he or she needs from the trail rather than what his or her companions have come there to achieve.  “Trail Magic” is the AT’s version of “paying it forward.”  When you have extra cinnamon rolls to share with other groups at one of your stops, they also may share extra provisions on a following day with another group.  Or, providing piggy back rides for small hikers over deeper streams may inspire similar labor to be shared further along.

For my birthday this year, my husband (with the help of my three children, parents and sister), created a box labeled “Trail Magic” for my school year.  Inside this truly magical box are 180 envelopes (the number of school days he thought we had) in each of which one of the seven of them had copied a poem or a joke or photograph, or written a note for me to open at the start of each day in my classroom.  So far this year, I have begun my day inspired by Longfellow, amused by my 7 year old, brought to tears by a love note, and made to laugh out loud by a funny photograph.   This Trail Magic has propelled me into my day with my students better equipped to resist the pressure to have that place become a factory of life sucking machine like accomplishment, and instead a space that restores and relishes the fullness of our humanity, in all of its mess and marvelousness, that we all may engage the world more alive than we were before.

Learner, Thinker, Writer:  Jane Gilbert, 4th grade teacher

Flourishing: A Trinity Journey

Needless to say, I have done more than my share of reflecting this past week as Sarah prepared to graduate. The last nine years of my daughter’s life have been spent at Trinity School. With each passing year, I watched her engage with the faculty carefully chosen to support the learners at each stage of development. I watched her experience the curriculum and activities that we as a school had developed to help students build a strong academic and character foundation, cherish childhood, empower learners, deepen experiences and to cultivate curiosity, creativity, and confidence. All of this was designed to help students flourish. It’s a lovely tagline, evoking a picture of life unfolding. The marketing strategy is more than a clever draw on one’s heartstrings. A Trinity journey results in students who flourish. I know. I watched it happen.

Sarah entered the Butterfly class, full of delight and activity. She was disinterested in coloring in the lines, often failed to follow instructions, and was busy when she was supposed to be sitting still. At the same time, she loved the roly polys she found at recess, cherished dress up time, and devoured the lunches – as her clothes clearly showed each afternoon. Reading came hard and slow for her. Her classmates zoomed ahead. Learning Team members intervened to support her, yet she still lagged behind. Friendships lagged as well. It was hard to be different. I often wondered if perhaps she wasn’t a good fit at Trinity. Sarah could do math with ease, and she loved art and music. But still the reading and writing kept her from feeling like she was a student.

Third Grade came and our lives changed in an instant with the death of her father. It was the Trinity family who made sure my daughter was okay. Miss Paige bought her art supplies, knowing how she loved to draw and perhaps drawing would help her sort out her feelings. Miss Coote showered her with love and encouragement. Miss Suzanne wrote her a note about her own loss at the age of 9. Ms. Hansen honored the math student that she was so proud to be. Reading was still the enemy, and she was even further behind due to the emotional toll and lack of progress.

Fourth Grade. A year that I had dreaded as a parent, knowing that the amount of reading and writing increased. Knowing that friendships become even more difficult for girls. Knowing that reading would impact the math student she was so proud to be. A diagnosis of dyslexia, flair pens introduced by Miss Nims, new methods of taking notes shared by Mrs. Dickey, Mrs. Lynah, a devoted Trinity teacher who tutored her with gusto, and Learning Ally turned her story around. Day-by-day, she gained confidence as a reader. For the fourth year in a row, her teachers had carefully placed her with her dear friend who loved her for who she was, and she had new opportunities to show what she knew in different ways. All of a sudden, she started talking like a student, sharing what she was learning, seeking information, choosing to read. She worked hard. So hard.

Fast forward to her Leadership year. Cobalt blue. Meaningful school field trips and outdoor education trips. Student Council. Carnegie Hall. Tours for prospective parents. Taking tours at prospective secondary schools. Projects where art and creativity were honored. Opportunities to think differently. Opera. Capstone about the advantages of dyslexia! And this week. . . Graduation.

Each year, growth as a learner. Each year, growth as a friend. Each year, growth as a thinker. Each year, opportunities to shine in her own way. As I have reflected upon her journey at Trinity School, and I have shed more than a few tears at this loss of childhood, I have been immensely proud of the school that has shaped Sarah, allowing her to stretch and honoring the gifts she brings so joyfully. Thank you, Trinity School, for helping my girl flourish.

 

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Maryellen Berry serves the Trinity Community as the Upper Elementary Division Head.