A bold choice for a math methods course

June 26th, 2017

When I wrote Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had, I wrote directly to readers, and I had specific readers in mind: real teachers, in various stages of their careers, who were ready to learn how to teach math so much better than how they were taught. Before writing it, I’d worked with preservice teachers and their inservice mentors for seven years in a variety of schools. I wanted to write a book that would be useful to both groups, knowing full well that some parts would resonate more with teachers who are just starting out and other parts would grab the attention of experienced teachers. I’ve been hearing from experienced teachers who are finding the book motivating, thought-provoking, and practical, which makes me so happy. I still wondered how it would go over with preservice teachers, though. Would it inspire them, or overwhelm? When Christine Newell decided to use it as the central text in her math methods class last term, I asked her to keep me posted, and we’ve had conversations throughout the semester. I’m so grateful that she took the time to reflect on her experience because it may help other math methods instructors. I have loved reading every one of her students’ letters, and it’s clear Chrissy nurtured a safe climate and taught a wonderful course. She’s started them off beautifully, and I can’t wait to hear how these teachers grow throughout their careers.

-Tracy Zager, author of Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had

A bold choice for a math methods course
Christine Newell

“I didn’t learn math this way” and “I wish I had learned math this way” have become common refrains in the professional development I facilitate. Somewhere in there is generally an underpinning of feeling totally cheated out of this “new math” that feels exciting and rich and actually makes sense. Veteran teachers are being asked to change not just the way they teach math, but their whole understanding of what mathematics is, and preservice and beginning teachers are facing the challenge of teaching in a way they were never taught. Regardless of years of experience, teachers are looking for support to become the math teacher they never had and are being asked to be. Tracy Zager’s powerful book, Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had: Ideas and Strategies from Vibrant Classrooms, is the answer to this. After my first read, it’s already dog-eared, tabbed, and annotated, and I’ve been back and forth from favorite concepts to ideas and resources countless times. This is pretty remarkable considering it was released just six months ago.

Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You'd Had, by Tracy ZagerI made the pretty bold decision to choose Tracy’s book as the required text for the Math Methods course I taught for preservice teachers this past semester. It was a departure from the content-rich texts that the other instructors were using for this course, Van de Walle’s Teaching Student-Centered Mathematics, and Chapin & Johnson’s Math Matters. To be clear, I love both of these books and find them invaluable resources as I work with teachers, but I wanted to try something different. I wanted my preservice teachers to learn not just about content and pedagogy, but also about the importance of redefining math for themselves and creating “favorable conditions” for all students to see themselves as mathematicians.

Even before the first chapter, Tracy frames the experience for readers by saying that when reading this book, “there is no wrong way, as long as reading it is useful to you.” (p. xv) This is not a trivial statement. It sets the stage for the message throughout the book that math is flexible and creative, that mathematicians explore and believe in their intuition and revise their thinking. This was new thinking for my students. Each chapter zeroes in on an important attribute of mathematicians (read: all students) and offers snapshots from real classrooms where teachers and students are engaging in math in meaningful ways. Balancing content and pedagogy is a constant negotiation for math methods instructors, and Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had offers jumping-off points for conversations around both. For my students, it was an approachable introduction to teaching elementary mathematics for this reason. It enhanced our content conversations by opening up my students’ ideas about what elementary students think and can do, and challenged what they thought was the role of the teacher.

In addition to the mathematical merits of the bookTracy writes in a way that makes you feel like you’re having a one-on-one conversation with her. Many of my students commented that they felt like they “knew” Tracy and the teachers she featured by the end of the book. This gives me hope that once they land in their own classrooms, my students will pull this resource off their shelves early and often. I’ll let my students say the rest. They were asked to write a letter to Tracy explaining the impact her book had on them in this course. The verdict? The book shaped our experience together this semester in profound, positive, challenging, inspiring ways. (Excerpts below printed with permission.)

The impact that reading your book this semester has made on my teaching has been huge. Every single chapter has given me tools, interesting scenarios, and great advice as to how I should teach mathematics in my very own classroom.

Thank you for writing such an insightful book, a book that challenged the norm and made us pre-teachers think “outside the box.”

Your book has taught me so many ways to teach math effectively but, most importantly, how to love math.

I cannot express enough how much I enjoyed each page of your book. Not only did you share such powerful and influential messages, but you inspired me.

Thank you for writing this wonderful book and inspiring teachers to feel more confident in math! It was wonderful to have read this before going to teach first grade because I feel better prepared to teach math.

Entry Filed under: math

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