My Struggles

I realized in looking over my old posts this weekend (as I’m trying to really keep up with blogging this year), that I really only blog when I have a positive idea or activity to share…and maybe sometimes a question to pose to those who may be reading this.  My point: I never really talk about my struggles.  So I want to be me expressive of all parts of my teaching this year.

Here are two struggles that are big on my mind lately.  Comments appreciated!

1. Building Numeracy.  I know we all think about it/talk about/play with the idea.  We have bootcamps and special days in our classes to “review” or “refresh” these old topics.  But how can I build strong basic numeracy (I’m talking arithmetic, decimals, fractions, estimation) in every lesson?  I teach two classes of senior math.  It’s does not end in any state exam.  It has students of a wide range of ability (though many of our strongest math seniors are in my honors class), and I honestly think all students could benefit from deeper thinking about the math they learned before high school.  I want to do this in a way that is (a) truly effective and (b) incorporated into other topics as we learn more math.

2. The Checked-Out Student.  No matter how interesting or how important the lesson is, I often have a student or two who is just not invested.  He or she is usually not even going to try.   When it comes to classroom management, I think it is important at times to “give students some space.”  It’s ok to be low energy once in a while, and I don’t want to harass a student who is well meaning and just having a bad day or whatever the case may be…but what about the student who is continually disengaged?  How do I positively and effectively get that student to buy in?  I don’t have any great answers to this question.

8 thoughts on “My Struggles

  1. samjshah September 15, 2013 / 10:18 pm

    I have no thoughts on #2 because… well because.

    But for #1, I have two thoughts. One is using Estimation 180 in class each day as a warm-up:

    The other is to consider doing counting circles. I heard about them at Twitter Math Camp, and even though I didn’t make it to the presentation, I saw the slides and watched a pretty powerful video of a counting cirlce in action here (click through the slides for the video):


  2. Wendy Menard September 16, 2013 / 7:14 pm

    I’m with Sam re #2 – when you get that answer, please share it widely and loudly. I have a student who I know wants to earn a credit and move on (I had him 2 semesters ago, and he repeated the course last term with another teacher, now he’s back with me), but cannot seem to commit to being engaged in class. But a wonderful idea for numeracy as part of your routine which might include counting circles and estimation is Number Strings. They are successive mental math problems which build at basic ideas of number sense; I’ve seen them work very well for fractions. I don’t have personal resources to share (a professor in ed grad school did them with us and all I have are notes on index cards), but a quick Google search revealed this link:
    and a pdf file called Mathematics Routine Bank: SECONDARY NUMBER SENSE AND ALGEBRAIC THINKING ROUTINES. I’ve used them periodically in Algebra 1 classes; I think regular use would definitely improve numeracy.

  3. David Wees September 16, 2013 / 8:56 pm

    Check out daily Math talks as a way to help boost numeracy through peer interactions. See for an explanation of how this works.

    The only thing I have found worked with a student who came to class consistently but was always disengaged was persistence and an attempt to understand her perspective.

  4. Matthew Jones September 16, 2013 / 10:16 pm

    For #2 my only suggestion is to build a positive relationship with that student. They may not be willing to do something for a teacher, but maybe they will for a friend. I’ve had some success with students that abhor Math in that they are willing to try things out, but it hasn’t worked for all of them. Some hate Math and teachers (which includes me, even though they don’t know me) and so I haven’t been able to break through. Not a 100% success rate.

  5. pispeak September 17, 2013 / 8:39 pm

    Thanks, all…I think when it comes to #2 that there is no easy answer- it’s the long game we’re playing there. Relationships and persistence are definitely key!
    And thanks for all the resources on #1! I’m also reading “Building Powerful Numeracy…” at the moment and would love anyone’s thoughts on it. (

  6. saska September 20, 2013 / 2:32 pm

    i enjoy reading your blog. Keep writing


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