This past weekend I traveled to New Orleans for the first time with my rugby team for a friendly match and short vacation from being “Ms. B.” One of the girls in my car is only playing with us for a short time because she is moving to Africa to do work improving sanitation- she created her own start-up and holds several patents at the ripe old age of 25… WOW! She is easily one of the most interesting and downright awesome people I’ve ever met. During the 5-6 hour car ride, she was talking about all of the experiences that she’s had either as an engineering student or working in the field and commented that almost always, the most simple solution to a problem is the best solution.
After playing in a rugby match, driving for over 10 hours in less than 3 days, and a night on Bourbon Street, last night was not the most productive night of planning. Grades were due today, so although I finished putting in the quizzes that my teammates graciously helped me grade during the car ride and inputted “citizenship” and effort grades, my actual lesson preparation was somewhat lacking. Of course, I overslept this morning and got to school around 7:40 instead of my usual 6:40 arrival time. Fortunately, my 6th grade math partner-in-crime had gotten to school before me and come up with a really simple activity (a flap foldable!) to make our on-level guided and independent practice more “fun” for the kids.
At the end of the day, my teammate’s words popped back into my head. I spend SO much time and effort trying to be creative, innovative, and fun that I can lose sight of what’s actually important– making sure my kids master the objective! A simple foldable and an activity from our textbook ended up being one of the best things I’ve done with my Math 6 kids in the past few weeks, and it took so much less energy and prep time than so many of my lessons have in the past.
One of my teammate’s research initiatives in college involved ordering a number of emergency water treatment systems that NGOs use worldwide in order to evaluate them and creative a system to effectively and holistically evaluate their value in terms of wait time between ordering and receiving parts, ease of assembly, efficiency, and a number of other variables. The best systems were quick to arrive and easily adaptable to the needs of the community.
Something that I had been saying ever since being placed in a math classroom is that I am “not a math person” and do not feel as comfortable teaching math as I would teaching the humanities. Admittedly, my heart still aches every time I accidentally pick up a stack of papers that the 8th grade US history teachers left in the copy room or I walk past the 6th grade contemporary world cultures classroom buzzing with conversation; however, I am realizing more and more that I don’t need to be the best mathematician in the world or the most creative activity planner. I have some great ideas for teaching social studies that I’m sure would be fun and effective in the classroom, but as a second year teacher, I think it might be a good thing that I am forced to take a step back from all of the “bells and whistles” in my lessons. I can’t think up crazy activities to do in the context of math, but as my teammate pointed out, the most simple solutions are generally also the most fool proof. Today, my kids folded 2 pieces of paper, stapled them together, and learned how to find the least common multiple of fractions. Some periods were able to jump right into independent practice after walking through the modeling phase and learning the process of converting to a like denominator while others did practice problems in a more guided fashion in a class-wide setting. It was simple, quick and easy to set-up, and easily adaptable to the needs of each of my classes. Here’s to my teammate and the 4-flap foldable!