Monday, October 13, 2014

Guest Blogger: Creating Math Thinkers

Our Guest Blogger this week is our Math Teacher Leader, Kevin Williams, a dedicated 5th grade teacher from Reed Elementary. Today, he writes about his experiences with learning and teaching math for understanding. Thank you, Kevin, for sharing your journey with us today as you create math thinkers in your classroom!

Hello, my name is Kevin Williams, and I'm a mathaholic. I wasn't always addicted to math. In fact, as a student I barely even liked it. I had many good teachers, but it was a different day and age. All students had to do back then was repeat procedures and algorithms. I was an expert at memorizing formulas, repeating steps, and passing tests. Passing tests was so easy back in the day. They were mostly computation problems with very few real-world applications. I didn't even realize how math ignorant I was. Not until I became a teacher.

At first things were great. State tests were ridiculously simple, requiring very little from teachers as they prepared their students. It wasn't long before new math standards and expectations came into play. Suddenly it wasn't enough for students to add, subtract, multiply, and divide in isolation. My students had to actually think. While I was great at teaching steps, procedures, and tricks, I was at a loss for teaching thinking.

It was at a Marilyn Burns training that I began to understand just how little I knew about teaching math, and really how little I understood math personally. As the leader worked with a group of students, she asked the simple question, "What is area?" Every hand reached for the sky. "It's length times width," they all shouted. I was so proud. "That is how you can find area. But what IS it?" It suddenly hit me. I was guilty of teaching methods to find answers when my students didn't even really understand the questions!

Much has changed for me since then. I began a personal journey to truly learn the reasons why all of the procedures, algorithms, and tricks I taught worked. I'm embarrassed to admit some of the concepts that I finally began to understand--like when I discovered arrays and for the first time understood square numbers! I became addicted to playing with numbers.

Why tell you all of this now? I guess it's because of the new Bridges materials that we have in Leander. The materials require kids to manipulate and play with numbers. It gives students opportunities to apply knowledge and skills. It enables kids to build number sense. It makes us communicate mathematical thinking. And we play games. Lots and lots of games. Games that make kids think. I can't wait to see how it will eventually transform our kids and their deep understanding of math. I have been around long enough to understand and expect an "implementation dip" in the short-term. I'm confident, though, that if we stay the course, we will see dramatic improvement in mathematical thinking in the near future.

Thank you, Leander ISD, for providing us with a resource that will prepare our students for a brighter future, with more options due to their better understanding of math. I see many more mathaholics in our future!


  1. Really great article! Thanks for sharing your passion!! All our LISD kiddos must just love you! Great job!