What risk are you willing to take?

MidSchoolMath National Conference 2016

MidSchoolMath was founded as a direct result of extensive research into the US math crisis and the complexity of the problem. It is the first company to answer the quintessential question posed by every middle school math student: “When am I going to ever use this?” At the National Conference held during 2-3 March 2018 in Sante Fe, New Mexico, Megan LeBleu gave a talk to educators about the importance of taking risk for math students. Below you will find this talk.

I taught math for 14 years at a middle school in Albuquerque, NM. My colleagues and I spent our planning time modifying our curriculum quite a bit, trying to make lessons accessible to and interesting for our students. In general, though, I was still teaching how I was taught. I do, we do, you do. I was fearful that my students would fail if I didn’t “teach” them first. I didn’t really value what they brought to the table, regarding their own intuition and creative problem solving.

But then 4 years ago, I attended a MidSchoolMath PD. I learned about story being used for learning, about these ideas of productive failure and productive struggle, and it made a lot of sense to me. I was also exposed to the idea of global math education… there ARE actually teachers, math students, and people outside of the U.S… all around the world…

It was then, 4 years ago, that I took a risk that ultimately led my students (and myself) down a path of discovery and learning. I accepted a challenge to create a math story project… a story in which math is embedded as a useful tool. Had I ever thought of using story in math class? No. Had I ever even seen story used in a math class? No. Not like this. The concept was completely foreign to me. Yet I saw value in it for my students… mathematical value and cultural value.

So, I dove into the unknown and created Expedition Everest, where my students would be mountaineers on Everest, encountering significant math problems on their way to the summit. Now let me tell you… My students live in a high-poverty area, riddled with gang violence and drug use. They rarely think outside their neighborhood, much less outside the country. While creating Expedition Everest, and even after, people questioned the relevancy of the topic to my students. How is Mount Everest relevant to students in Albuquerque? And maybe it isn’t…. initially….

But, by taking a risk, stretching myself, thinking outside the textbook… I was able to create mathematically enriching tasks…. Tasks that allowed my students to question, to use their intuition, to offer creative solutions….Tasks that were so intriguing, my students were willing to try, fail, struggle, and persist until they reached a solution. All the while, they were honing their math skills, discussing strategies and ideas, AND at the same time, they were learning about the tallest mountain in the world, about the Sherpa of Nepal, and about an animal called a yak. Their world was now bigger than it was before. And I, I had never had so much fun teaching.

We don’t all have to take our students to Mount Everest as mountaineers. Nor do we have to take them to Myanmar as secret agents. But we can do SOMETHING. Maybe it’s just restructuring the curriculum we currently have. And we might fail. But so did Edwin Link, and his pilots…at first. If WE don’t have the courage to take risks, and to push ourselves to explore the unknown, how can we expect our students to do the same?

As you go forward throughout the school year, consider this: what risk are you willing to take, to give your students, and yourself, the chance to fail, struggle, persist, and grow… as learners, and as global contributors?

Megan LeBleu is a National Board Certified teacher who taught math at a high-poverty middle school in Albuquerque, New Mexico for 14 years. During those years she became a master at collaborating with fellow teachers, making math curriculum engaging and accessible to students. She is highly skilled at integrating technology in the classroom and is well versed in the Common Core math standards. 

To learn more about MidSchoolMath visit  http://www.midschoolmath.com/.
Check out this article about Megan and her math classroom  https://www.abqjournal.com/348546/math-made-fun-with-trip-calculations.html.


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