Teaching middle school is not for the faint of heart. But if you're called to do it, you know there's nothing else quite like it. Join us in discussing what works - and what doesn't.

If you could wave a magic wand...

Sybrina Former Classroom Mathematics Teacher and Math Coach

Hi, all,

This is my first post. So, please allow me to take just a second to provide a little background. I was a classroom mathematics teacher for 24 years and then mentored teachers in a math coach capacity. Recently, I have begun work with a team of educators who create instructional materials and provide support services to middle school math classrooms across the country.

This brings me to this post's subject line. If you could wave a magic wand and be granted one wish for your classroom/school/district that would help you teach even more effectively and, consequently, help your students learn even better, for what would you ask?

Would it be some type of resource, access to a new technology, a curriculum change, a type of professional development, or perhaps a logistic/organizational change of some sort?

Or is there a trend that sounds quite promising -- something you would like to implement in your classroom/school/district?

While mathematics education is my passion, I'd love to hear from middle school teachers in all disciplines/capacities.

Here's looking forward to a lively and enlightening conversation.


Comments (24)

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Middle School teacher by day, Tweenteacher by night

Wow, only one?

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Hmmm...This one's a lot to think about. I mean, we all know there isn't some magic bullet that would transform our practice and that there is an equation of sorts whose variables must all be in place if education is to work:

School + Family + Government (Funding) + Student Effort = Success.

So I guess that if I were to be granted one wish, I would wish a giant roulette wheel with different slices representing all of the elements that would help our profession, and I would spin it and be thrilled with any of the results. The slices could be as follows:

- an endless opportunity for professional development based on teacher choice not district determined
- the ability to create a hybrid profession, a combination of classroom teaching and other places in education to help avoid burnout and help create more diverse pathways through our profession
- the influence in the media to help our profession's reputation
- the ability to create an education for K-12 that allowed for both online and offline for any student, allowing for differentiation and 21st century skills
-school sites that would beautiful, landscaped, and peaceful, promoting education as a sanctuary of thought in even the most urban of areas
-endless support by families for their students, endless love for them, safety at home, healthy foods, someone checking that the shoes don't have holes, the homework was done, the forts are closed up for the night

I know. I dream. And I also know that I didn't answer your question. But the wheel is spinning and I"d be happy for the peg to stop on any slice of the pie.

Thanks for starting such an interesting post.

-Heather WG

6th-8th Special Ed, LS & Mentally Gifted teacher

My Sentiments Exactly

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I'm of like mind with Heather about only having one choice. But, at this point with my school, if I had to choose just one, it would be to drastically improve teacher morale.

Our school is so beaten down by mandates, protocols, scripted curriculum, test scores, etc. that morale is at an all time low. It's such a shame on some many levels - we came into this year on a "high" from doing so well the year before.

I know there are so many things that schools, students, teachers, and education in general needs. But I really think that with positive attitudes, much can be achieved.

Former Classroom Mathematics Teacher and Math Coach

How about an unlimited number of magic wands?

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Hi, Helen,

It was so good to receive your comment. You've certainly given voice to a number of initiatives that could make significant differences for our teachers and students.

I, too, agree that only one wish is not going to be enough. How about one wish per magic wand, but an unlimited number of wands?

I loved your comment about providing professional development that springs from the desires and needs of the faculty. A colleague and I were just having that discussion the other day.

Your idea for a hybrid occupation is also right on the money. When I was in the classroom, I had the opportunity to work as a consultant for my state department, a calculator company, and a few professional math organizations. Not only did I learn so much, I was re-energized by networking with the most incredible educators -- people who shared my visions, frustrations, and desire to be an advocate for change.

It would certainly be a far better world if we had the respect/support of media outlets, access to technology that would allow for more differentiation opportunities, sanctuaries for learning, and students with all the advantages that a good home environment can provide.

Thanks for continuing the conversation with such a thoughtful reply.

Former Classroom Mathematics Teacher and Math Coach

How can morale be improved?

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Hi, Erika,

First, I want to thank you for your dedication to special needs students. You have my upmost respect. It seems that teachers at all levels, whether it be elementary, middle, high, or special ed, have a certain something that fosters success with students at their level. After a year of team teaching an inclusion Algebra 1 class with a special education colleague, I am in awe of teachers who have the gift to work with our most needy students.

Thank you for your honest, poignant and, most likely, far too common thoughts. You are so right that morale can make a huge difference.

You said that the year started on a real "high" as a result of last year's results. So, I was wondering what was morale like this time last year? Were the mandates, protocols, etc, in place last year? If so, and morale was better, what do you think has made such a difference?

Thanks, Erika, for replying. I hope we continue the conversation.

Middle School Math (including Alg I, Geo, and Alg II) from Tampa, FL

Teacher training

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The educational level of expectation for math teachers in Florida is, in a word, sad. I have been doing a lot of studying of the Singapore style of teaching math and agree with many elements of their philosophy. The two most key elements of their philosophy are: Math teachers need to understand well beyond the level of math that they are teaching and we need to stop jumping on every band wagon that comes down the pike.

In my lifetime, we have had New Math, Chicago Math, Everyday Math, and a few others.

So, my wish?

We get back to basics. Make sure teachers are prepared to TEACH the math. Teach the kids to think and problem solve. Every new style of teaching math that has come along focuses on math as discrete concepts. When a teacher understands the interconnectedness of the mathematics, they can present it that way. If a teacher barely understands the math to begin with, he or she will never be able to communicate it.

Okay, I will descend from my soapbox now.

Former Classroom Mathematics Teacher and Math Coach

Teacher Training

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Hi, Tom,

Good to hear from you.

You hit a nail on the head with your concerns about understanding mathematics beyond the level of a teaching assignment. There have been two developments here in Ohio that I believe have a chance to make a significant difference: 1) moving away from a generic K-8 certificate in place of licenses for smaller grade bands that include areas of specialization and 2) hiring math coaches/specialists in many elementary and middle schools, finances permitting. What about in Florida? Have similar changes been tried in Florida middle schools?

I also love that you include critical thinking and problem solving as basics. Singapore Math certainly provides a nice structure for students to use when they approach problems. Speaking of Singapore Math, I received a flier in the mail today about a Singapore Math conference from July 12-15 in Vegas (from SDE:Staff Development for Educators). Not sure what your professional development monies are like in these days of budget cuts, but thought I'd mention it.

Feel free to re-ascend your soapbox anytime. I really appreciated your perspective. Thanks for joining in the conversation.


Middle School Math (including Alg I, Geo, and Alg II) from Tampa, FL

RE: Teacher Training

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I attended the Singapore training in Vegas last year and took a primary teacher, two intermediate teachers and another middle school teacher with me. We then attended every session that we could that pertained to our level of instruction. I split my time between Early Primary and Middle/High School because our game plan was to bring back as much as possible to our school. Upon our return, we were able to work with the faculty to not only get their level of mathematical understanding a little higher, but also introduce them to the Singapore model. The Primary and Intermediate levels still use the Everyday Math books as a resource, but they teach the concepts through the thinking/problem solving approach that Singapore has perfected. It's wonderful. I hope that school districts move towards the math specialists or push their teachers to get the necessary training to understand (well) beyond their level of instruction. I am confident that Universities aren't going to change their requirements, because they don't want to scare people away. So, it's up to the teacher or the school districts. If teachers, schools, or districts are comfortable with mediocrity, we'll continue to get it.

Another element of the Singapore model that we truly need to implement in this hemisphere is the concept that memorization is done at home. I do a lot of acting and singing as a side career. I don't show up to rehearsal to learn my lines or notes. I do it at home. We need to instill that in our students. Thinking, manipulating, and problem solving are done at school. School is to learn WHY 6*7=42. Home is for committing the facts to memory. Now, granted, we need parental support for this but, as I've previously stated, if we set the level of expectation that parents will assist in memorization at home, there is a pretty good change that they will do something along those lines. If we expect the worst, we'll probably get that, too.


Former Classroom Mathematics Teacher and Math Coach

Singapore Conference

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Sounds like the Singapore Conference was a wonderful experience. And, you absolutely did it the right way by going as a group of colleagues. So, glad you were all able to attend.

In my day, graphing calculator use was one of my main tools for engaging students. I gained so much by networking with incredible educators from other states and countries at technology and calculator conferences. My richest experiences definitely were those when more than one of us attended a conference.

Your comments about home support also rang true. My experience in the urban schools in which I taught was that parents wanted to help, but often times didn't know want to do. While we sought parental involvement, we also provided scaffolding and safety nets as needed.

Let me close by saying your students are so very fortunate to have you as their teacher. With your constant urging that they reach for stars, many are sure to at least land on the moon.


Middle School Math (including Alg I, Geo, and Alg II) from Tampa, FL

RE: Singapore

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I know what you mean about parental help, my 7th graders often exceed their parents' level of mathematical understanding. I won't even mention my eighth graders. We're currently working on using Logarithms to perform different tasks like calculating mortgages, pH levels, and carbon dating. So, needless to say, the parents could easily write themselves off as useless. Except for the fact that I expect my kids to go home and work with their parents on this stuff. Now, the kids that are nailing it day in and day out can live their lives parent free if they want. The kids that have challenges, though, are expected to go home, sit down with mom, dad, baby sitter, big sister, whomever, and work through the material. Even if it involves teaching the concept to them first. This same idea can be applied at any level. Now, granted, some urban areas have households where mom and dad work until well after bedtime. I imagine that's where the safety nets come in that you were talking about. Keeping a student after school for a little while to do the memorizing of facts isn't optimal, but it could be a reasonable substitute for mom and dad being elsewhere. In fact, that child may even respond better during class because of the fact that the teacher recognized a need, offered an option, and followed through.

Thank you for the compliment. We teachers are a special breed. Teachers gauge their success vicariously through the success of their students. It's our greatest (and often only) reward.

On a side note, you mentioned graphing calc conferences. Did you ever attend any T3 (cubed) conferences? I presented at a few regionals. I also attended the MELT conference at App State a number of years ago. One of the most amazing conferences I've ever attended.


Former Classroom Mathematics Teacher and Math Coach

Safety Nets and T3

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Isn't it funny how I feel like I know you pretty well and we've done nothing more than exchange a few posts.

Isn't it also funny how parents would never say that they aren't good at reading, but seem to announce their lack of math aptitude as though it were a medal of honor.

The urban school that I mentioned was an alternative arts-focused school in a large district. Consequently, it was not a neighborhood school and students were bused from all over the city. Three safety nets that our principal built into the schedule were: 1) requiring all freshmen take a minimum of Algebra 1 -- yes, even our future actors, musicians, and sculptors -- but scheduling daily 80 minute classes to allow us time to cover Algebra while filling in gaps, 2) having study halls, monitored by math faculty, that were scheduled before lunch to allow for tutoring opportunities, and 3) having a 20-minute period in the middle of the day during which nobody (students nor teachers) had any assigned classes/responsibilities to allow for student/teacher interactions for mini-conferences and tutoring sessions.

You mentioned students teaching their parents. An assignment that I gave to my students at the beginning of the year was to teach a specific graphing calculator skill to their parents. In Algebra II, it was often a point plotting, line fitting exercise. This allowed students a chance to practice calculator skills, for parents to see how their investment would be used during the year, and a chance for students to shine in the eyes of their parents. The assessment for both parties was to complete an evaluation form -- what went well, what didn't, what they learned... The responses often revealed quite a bit about attitudes toward math, parental education level, and the student/parent relationship. Wish I could take credit for the idea, but it came from a T3 Instructor.

Speaking of T3... Yes, I was very involved with the organization. I took a weeklong class at Ohio State (with Frank Demana, Bert Waits, Chuck VonderEmbse, and Greg Foley) in the summer of 1992. I assisted with several workshops the next two summers and became a T3 Instructor in 1995. As an instructor, I facilitated weeklong summer workshops, spoke at regional and national conferences, helped create a Biology and Algebra Workshop, and served as a committee co-chair for the 2001 T3 Conference in Columbus. My last official T3 activities were probably in 2002.

Speaking of pH levels, have you ever used CBLs and Vernier probes with your graphing calculators? If not, it might be worth looking into. And, I loved using the CBR with my students.

So, whos' on a soapbox now. Time for me to descend -- have a pup in need of a walk on a gorgeous Central Ohio day.


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