I've done a lot of things as a teacher that I wish I hadn't. Collecting tickets for students to visit the restroom, round robin reading, making students move their behavior clip in an oh-so-public form of humiliation, and many many more. I'm not proud of any of this stuff, y'all.
But Maya Angelou brings me relief and perspective with this quote:
I'll say it again for those of us who have a hard time forgiving ourselves and moving forward.
“Do the best you can until you know better.
Then when you know better, do better.”
MAYA ANGELOU, LATE AMERICAN POET, AUTHOR, AND CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST
Today I am sharing my journey to know better and do better with my daily math routines.
Why do I keep hold of old routines even in the face of new, improved ways of learning?
Here are a few of my own well-worn justifications.
We do things that we remember from school when we were kids. Maybe we liked them. Maybe we think that's the way it's supposed to be done. Maybe we want kids to have a similar experience to ours.
We think because everyone else in our school is doing it a certain way, we should too. No one likes a smarty pants. Sometimes we can be a bit jealous and catty when other teachers try to branch out or shake things up. In light of school social schemes, it can be intimidating to stand out or be a leader.
We are afraid to try something new because change can be upsetting to kids. I confess I have used this as an excuse for my own lack of courage. In truth, most kids LIKE a change of pace.
We are busy just surviving, paddling to keep our heads above water in a hectic school year. Making a change now seems overwhelming. We tell ourselves that keeping the status quo is the wisest course. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
There are probably many more reasons that are personal to you too. These justifications are most likely totally valid, reasonable, and well founded. If you'd like to share, please add your own reasons for resisiting change in the comment section. I bet we all share similar fears.
Change is Hard! But consider this...
We know more TODAY about how
kids develop, grow, and learn math than we have ever known in the history of kid-dom.
The aggregation of research and wisdom about teaching is at its peak--until tomorrow when it peaks again.
That's why we shouldn't continue to do things because that's the way they've always been done. We might be missing out on something really powerful because we are afraid.
And kids are the unwitting losers in that scenario.
When we are excited to learn and grow as professionals, it shows in our classroom countenance. Kids see us stretching our practices, moving out of our comfort zones to improve our craft. We model lifelong learning.
My Beloved Calendar
One of my most endearing classroom routines was a whole group activity I called "calendar." Year after year, I spent morning after morning gathering my students to the carpet for this routine that I thought was a highly effective spiral review of important math objectives.
But careful reflection reveals several compelling reasons why calendar in preschool and kindergarten isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Why Calendar Isn't Rich Math Inquiry for Young Children
1. Our numbering system is base ten. The calendar hearkens toward base seven--not really that useful for understanding our place value system.
2. The calendar provides little practice with transitions between sets of ten. Young children typically know the 1-9 sequence and a bit beyond but often have difficulty identifying the counting patterns for decades (10, 20, 30) and transitions (for example, that 39 signals 40 next). You can read more about this in Baroody & Wilkins 1999. The calendar does not give any counting practice beyond the number 31, so students only have 3 chances to see and experience that tricky transition from one set of ten to the next.
3. Yesterday/Today/Tomorrow concepts are extremely abstract for preschool- and kindergarten-age children but they play heavily in the calendar routine. "Yesterday" seems to refer to any point in time that occurred before THIS moment. I've had kids tell me, "Yesterday when I was at Disneyland, I lost my flip flop" when I know for a fact they were at school yesterday and that trip to Disney was 6 months ago. Honestly, I think the only days kids really care about are their birthday, Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa and the last day of school. Now, young children DO need to understand about the passage of time, but this is best learned within the body of a school day when our class shares common experiences we can discuss and relate to the passage of time. We might say, “Before lunch, we had centers time. After lunch, we will have quiet time.” Before and after are more easily conceptualized than yesterday and tomorrow, making them more developmentally appropriate for young children.
4. Patterns in commercially produced calendar kits often rely on AB and neglect to advance to more complex repeating or growing patterns. Ah, the good old AB pattern. Circle, square, circle, square. Red, blue, red, blue. While AB is a good start, we can't stop there! Here's a post that offers lots of fun ideas for experiencing patterns in preschool. Like all math, patterning concepts are best learned through hands-on activities, not just looking at something. In this post, I explain a bit about the importance of growing patterns, something that rarely pops up in commercial calendar kits.
5. Spending time "doing calendar" gobbles up minutes that could be spent in effective, child-centered math experiences. Calendar is a whole group activity where all of the students except one are sitting passively, watching one lucky child engage with the materials. And it's the same thing day after day. Guess what comes next in the pattern, turn over the calendar card, count the days, add a stick to the ones or bundle a set of ten, and on and on. It can become mind-numbing after a while, and if the bum is numb, the brain is too! Even if the rest of the class chants along as something is counted, this does not consistute rich mathematical inquiry. Children learn best when they can get their hands on materials, talk with peers, and explore big ideas rather than sit passively.
Don't Mistake Calendar for Math
Math for young children is much richer than rote counting, identifying the same old patterns, or watching other people do stuff. It's messy. It's open. It's worth talking about. It allows for many right answers or at least many right ways to find them. If you need engaging, fun tasks for young children, check out this page and you'll find lots of rich mathematics tasks for young children.
After careful reflection about the shortcomings of calendar and overcoming a degree of trepidation, I decided to shrink down calendar's position in my daily routine. I kept it on the wall, and we still interacted with it briefly, but I limited the amount of time with which I honored the calendar and the amount space I gave it on my precious classroom wall.
Unencumbered by this less-than-stellar tradition, I was free to spend more class time in rich mathematical exploration in centers and small groups. Plus, my wall now had space for a new, richer number explorer--a Hundred Pocket Chart. The hundred chart with its base ten glory held greater mathematical potential than my comfortable but fruitless calendar routine.
Empowered, I recognized that something wasn't working out,
so I changed it up.
In the post called 10 Interactive Games with a Pocket Chart, I explain how to use a hundred pocket chart as a valuable visual tool for developing number sense and curiousity about our number system. I also connect algebraic reasoning to exploring the hundred chart, so be sure to hop over there and check it out.
Concluding Pep Talk
While some teaching practices become like security blankets, we can't confuse security with complacency. Be brave! Take a chance on a new, better routine. Consider shrinking down calendar and give interactions and explorations with the hundred pocket chart a chance to open your students' eyes to the beauty of our base ten system--the coolest growing pattern around.
Let me know what you think of these ideas, add your own suggestions in the comment section, or send me a Tweet. I'd love to hear about your journey to build math-positive mindsets by swapping out calendar for a pocket hundred chart.
If you like these ideas, hit subscribe. And find many more tips in my book Math-Positive Mindsets: Growing a Child's Mind without Losing Yours.