Hello, reader! If you intend to post a link to this blog on Twitter, be aware that for utterly mysterious reasons, Twitter thinks this blog is spam, and will prevent you from linking to it. Here's a workaround: change the .com in the address to .ca. I call it the "Maple Leaf Loophole." And thanks for sharing!

Monday, January 4, 2016

In Defense of Unsexy

At IM we're writing a sixth grade curriculum, and much of my time is spent writing, reviewing, and begging other people to write and review new grade 6 tasks that really just hit the fundamental stuff. After five-ish years of accepting task submissions, we have some holes. Because nobody wants to write easy questions.

Do you know what teachers have the hardest time finding?

Quality, basic stuff.

It is getting relatively easy to find the rather-complicated application problems, the projects, the whole new grading systems, the elegant warmups, the pinterest-worthy graphic organizers. Many people have invented and shared some very sexy, awesome stuff, and they are changing many teachers' and kids' experience of math. Hooray for that!

But so many teachers aren't helped by sexy stuff. I think one reason is that they don't think the payoff is worth the time investment. Or maybe that changing the whole way they run class is too intimidating. I'd be happy to entertain alternative theories.

Here's a cooking show analogy: in the early-mid 2000's people enjoyed Mario Batali's homemade gnocchi and Bobby Flay's 90-ingredient curries and Alton Brown's coconut cake that takes THREE DAYS (I'm not kidding. Three days.) But you know who I watched every day at 4:30? Rachel Ray. I suffered through her saying "yummo" and "EVOO-that-means-extra-virgin-olive-oil" approximately 19 times per episode, and she taught me how to get a reasonable meal on a plate in 30 minutes and how to chop a damn onion.

This blog grew in popularity (and stays relatively popular even though I neglect it so) not because I invented something big and sexy but because it offered relatively easy swaps for practice worksheets and ugly, fresh-off-the-smartboard rewrites of high school lessons that made the kids do a tiny bit more thinking than usual.

So I'm starting to hear my low-level angst echoed elsewhere and it's bubbling over. I have a request for you if you are a math teacher and you have a blog.

Share your kinda-borderline boring stuff. Your small tweaks that unloaded the right amount of cognitive lifting onto the kiddos. Your rather-basic task or set of tasks that don't seem that exciting, but your kids always seem to readily grasp that topic. Your snippets of classroom dialog where everybody ended up going OHHHH. Your artful arrangement of pieces of instructional units you found lying around. How you took that cool instructional idea you read in that book and figured out how to do it in a congruent triangles lesson.

We need you. Your kinda-lame-but-seems-to-do-the-trick exponent rule investigation is going to make you somebody's superhero. If you share them with me (add a comment on this post, tweet them at me, whatever), I'll re-share them and compile them in new posts. (And probably they will get added to some of those wonderful virtual filing cabinets and wikis.)

Update: Some gems in the comments. And some shared on Twitter.