On Second Thought…

I wrote this note in response to a parent email communicating their student’s struggle with word problems that I offered to the class from the SpaceMath website.

“Thank you for articulating what has been growing in my mind for the past several weeks. I’ve been struggling to find that “sweet spot” between challenge and boring and I’ve come to the conclusion that this program needs more work before I roll it out as an integrated element of my math curriculum. I am convinced that using live scientific data as a platform for exploring math concepts (no pun intended) is a valid strategy, especially in light of the orientation of the Common Core to numeracy and problem solving.

I think that offering SpaceMath as Extra Credit, or “accelerated” math is the way to test these out and build a portfolio of problems that can be calibrated for the reading and math level of the class. Your feedback is welcomed; one of the great things about a charter is that we can probe the edges of the envelope and rework our lessons when they’re not getting us to our math teaching goals.”

Two things are happening here: 1) I have offered curriculum content that uses real-world data and requires that students use higher-order thinking to apply their learning.  The boundary up at the edges of learning is much like the upper atmosphere: fluid and tenuous. Offering a single problem (each week) that dances that fine edge for fifty different students demands a large inventory of problems. I don’t have that right now, but I will by next year.  2) The charter teaching environment, coupled with a progressive management, allows for this kind of experimentation. Not a wild shot from the hip, but a thoughtful, reasoned program with a goal, quantitative measures, and a timeline.  The open communications channel with parents (clients) for feedback gives me real time information on how the program is working.

The change in program was well received by my students.  I positioned it as a no-risk option: no penalty for not doing it; anything less than a “3” would not be graded; and I will offer a SpaceMath “clinic” every Wednesday. Challenge and reward for those who want it, no guilt for those who don’t.

By the way: please visit the SpaceMath website and download their excellent math problems and activities based on NASA missions and programs. Dr. Sten Odenwald has created a huge portfolio of challenging problems arranged by topic and grade level. The site is easy to search, the content is rigorous, and Dr. Odenwald is very responsive to fellow educators.

About gblakney

Middle School Mathematics Teacher, passionate EdTech user who loves to experiment with new methods and tools in the classroom. Following the lead of Dan Meyer and Jo Boaler, I create a safe place for kids to discover the fun and beauty of maths. I use Number Talks and Groupwork to make maths accessible for all of my students. I enjoy Mathematics and I'm enthusiastic about teaching; the kids really respond to that.
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4 Responses to On Second Thought…

  1. Annie says:

    Sad to see the space math go. Thought it was challenging in an unique way-making kids learn to be undaunted by what looks like scary science to discover they can find what they need to do math. Thanks for continuing to make it optional and most of all to exposing us to it.

    Sent from my iPhone


    • gblakney says:

      not gone, reimagined. Kids and parents need to see that Math is not just arithmetic; it’s the beauty of relationships between values and how things change relative to each other, and because of each other. Just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean it can’t be done. If they want it, I will help them find it.

  2. gblakney says:

    I am not affiliated with SpaceMath or NASA in any way. I do not receive any remuneration for this endorsement, nor do either of my employers, Marblehead Community Charter Public School and Academic Approach of Chicago.

  3. Annie says:

    Jack is in!

    Sent from my iPhone


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