Welcome to Math Class

by Patty Clark, Senior Director of Content Development
February 19th, 2020

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When I began teaching, I was all about welcoming my students to my class, but not necessarily math class. I was, after all, that student who was a superstar in elementary school and then hit a wall when it became obvious that I needed much more than memorized math facts and procedures to be successful, as measured by whether I could get an A in math. As I began teaching, I was clueless as to how I could make math any more meaningful for my students than it had been for me. Enter Marilyn Burns. In 1991, I attended a five-day About Teaching Mathematics course that introduced me to Marilyn’s ideas and that transformed my thinking about what it means to teach and to learn math. I became a lover of math, and my goal was to make sure all my students were on the path to loving math, too.

Now, almost thirty years later, I am so happy to add this new publication, Welcome to Math Class, to my shelves of earmarked books from Marilyn. I’ve taught all grades from Kindergarten through 5th, and I’ve used almost every lesson in this book with students. I am hard-pressed to choose my own favorite, as all the lessons provided opportunities for my students to engage with and make sense of the math they were learning, in ways that piqued their curiosity and made them happy to be doing math. I’ve also used many of these lessons in professional learning sessions with teachers, often with the same results. I cannot say precisely the number of teachers, myself included, who’ve commented that they’d never seen a square number represented as an actual square until doing Multiplication with Rectangles. These are the lessons that many of us wish we had experienced as students!

The icing on the cake came for me when I was asked if I would work on the audio portion of the book, Conversations with Marilyn. Over the years, I’ve been privileged to have Marilyn as a colleague with whom I have conversations. We live on opposite coasts, so our conversations usually take place by phone or over a meal if we are lucky enough to find ourselves in the same location. Spending time with Marilyn in a studio recording these conversations was truly special.

“Long before I had the pleasure of engaging in conversations with Marilyn, I was listening to her voice as she spoke through her writing. My classroom shelves were lined with Marilyn’s books, and as I read them, I learned how to teach math. Welcome to Math Class is a gift of inspiration and know-how to teachers, but ultimately it is a gift to students who will benefit from math lessons that spark their curiosity and create a lifelong love of learning.”

Patty Clark
Math Solutions Senior Director of Content Development, Manassas, Virginia

What always strikes me when talking with Marilyn is her voice. She is the teacher next door sharing her experiences as someone who continues to learn from her students. In one of our conversations, Marilyn states, “I’ve been teaching for over 50 years. I’m getting good at it.” While this comment brings a smile to my face, the truth of the matter is that Marilyn has been teaching for over 50 years and continues to teach. The lessons in Welcome to Math Class give us the opportunity to learn from Marilyn’s experience, from pre-lesson thoughts, to classroom vignettes and examples of student thinking, to post-lesson reflections. We learn from a master teacher whose mission is to better the lives of other teachers by sharing her experiences and giving us all something to think about.

I’ve listened to all the Conversations multiple times. There is always something grabbing my attention that I did not hear before. I could paper a classroom wall with nuggets of wisdom that I’ve gathered from these recordings. Here are just a few of my current favorites.

            “How do I get kids to be the stars? To be the most important people in the room?”

            “If a child can be successful without having to think and reason, that’s not a good lesson.”

            “I know where I’m going. It’s intentional.”

            “I don’t make assumptions about what kids know. I instead say, I wonder what they do know, and how can they help me understand. “

            “I want them to know that I’m deeply interested.”

            “Do what makes sense to you and persist until it does.”

I am no longer in the classroom on a daily basis. It is books like Welcome to Math Class that make me wish that I was. As I read the lessons, I am reminded of the incredible times that I’ve had with students as we worked through these mathematical situations and as I opened myself to learning from them. I would gladly hang a sign on my door saying Welcome to Math Class!

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