I was in a second grade classroom the other day at the start of a math lesson. The teacher, focusing her students, said, “If I have to give you a second warning, you will not participate in math.” Wow! Never before have I heard a teacher use math as a reward, a payoff. I have seen it used as a threat and even as punishment, but this was a unique experience. That was so cool! I thought to myself, and so natural. This is how math should be treated, as something you look forward to, something you enjoy, something that will challenge and engage you. And taught properly, as this teacher does, all this happens automatically.

Now contrast that episode with this story told to me by a colleague. Her seventh grade daughter came home one day and started talking about her social studies lesson that day. At one point, she dropped this bomb: “My teacher says he hates math.” Again, I have to exclaim, “Wow!” but this Wow! is entirely different from my first Wow! What was this teacher thinking? Did he even consider that telling students that he, a successful educator, hated math gave them permission to hate math also? After all, if he’s successful in spite of hating math, why wouldn’t they be?

This teacher is helping to create and perpetuate an anti-math culture. A culture consists of beliefs, behaviors and attitudes. He believes math is something to dread, he expresses that belief in his behavior to the class, and his attitude is very clear.

All the above helps explain why Zeno strongly believes that making math fun, interesting, challenging and rewarding is essential to successful teaching and learning. And the payoff for the teacher is more than just having a class of students who are successful in math. There’s that sense of satisfaction, even joy, that comes from watching kids as they work through a problem, discussing it with other students, becoming excited and culminating in that wonderful phrase we all love to hear, “Oh! I get it!”

Today’s guest post was from Dave Gardner – former Mathematician in Residence at Zeno.


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