I taught high school mathematics in Orlando, Florida. My first day in the classroom was literally my first day in the classroom. I had earned a B.S. in mathematics with a minor in anthropology at the University of Florida. As a first generation college student, I knew I should go to college, but I wasn’t really sure why and didn’t have a clear end goal. As I approached graduation I decided I needed a job and teaching would be an interesting career. Mathematics teachers were in high demand and so after interviewing at a couple of schools I was hired to teach high school mathematics with no teaching experience and without ever taking a single education course.
As you might imagine, I did not magically step in to the classroom with my mathematics background and transform into a phenomenal teacher. I taught much like my high school and college teachers taught. I lectured as I went through various procedures and when students didn’t understand, I lectured again. This was not effective then and it’s not effective now.
During this time, I took night classes at the district offices in order to become alternatively certified. I don’t remember much about these courses except that they were mainly general pedagogy courses that focused on practices such as using thinking maps or ways to group students. These classes provided me with some new ways to think about classroom management, but I still wasn’t what I would call successful in helping my students understand mathematics deeply.
After earning my teaching certification, I decided to take night classes to learn more about my chosen profession. I enrolled in an M.Ed program at the University of Central Florida and learned there was an entire field devoted to the study of how to teach and learn mathematics: mathematics education. Reading and learning about mathematics education is where I really started to learn new ways to approach mathematics teaching.
Upon completing my Master’s I wanted to know more and so I decided to apply to doctoral programs in mathematics education. Initially, I thought earning my PhD would help me learn to be a more effective teacher, and it did. However, rather than returning to the classroom as a teacher, I decided to teach future teachers and research how to continue to improve mathematics teaching.
So, why the long story? Since starting in my current position I have been thinking about all I have learned. In doing so, I always think back to 22 year old Zandra and try to come up with advice for her. I cared so much about my students but I was under-learned (probably not a real word) and overwhelmed. I had common assessments and pacing guides to adhere to and a seemingly never ending list of emails, grading, and lesson planning to complete. Looking back, were there some small practices I could have quickly taken up to improve my instruction? The answer is undoubtedly yes.
Realizing this has led me to this multipart project called 180 Ideas. In this project I will give 180 ideas that any mathematics teacher can try out in the tomorrow. The idea relates back to a diet book I read some time ago that encouraged the reader to take up a new practice each day. Each one of these practices were really small and easy, like eat an apple a day. However, by the end of the book, those that had enacted each practice and kept them up would be following a vegan diet. The book could have just as easily said, in one sentence, become a vegan. However, that’s not easy or practical. Instead, these little steps culminated in a large change. Even if someone only did a portion of the practices, he or she would still be healthier than they were at the start.
180 Ideas is meant to give 180 little steps that you can take up. 180 because that would be one per day for a typical school year (thanks to Sam Otten for the idea to make it 180). Also, doing a 180 means turning around, and I hope this helps you to turn around some aspects of your practice you are not yet satisfied with.
If you were to consistently enact all or most of the 180 ideas, you would likely transform your practice. Some of you may just take up a handful. I would still argue that I think that both you and your students will benefit. Some of you probably already do many of these ideas regularly. It might still be helpful to read through these ideas and think about them as you do them. This might be especially helpful as you mentor new teachers into the profession.
I hope you give some of the 180 Ideas a try. For you, the teacher, these ideas are meant to invigorate your practice and give you small practical ways to try something new. In terms of your students, these ideas can help get your students talking and thinking deeply about mathematics. I hope that some of you may also contribute some of your own ideas as the project continues.