This may sound like a no-brainer, but I find it’s really important to engage elementary and middle school math teachers in doing mathematics during professional development. The experience of doing math in a different way than the way it was learned is critical before we talk about how to teach it in a different way than we learned.
It’s hard for me to figure out which tasks to use. I try to find activities that allow teachers to explore a particular mathematical concept in a different way than they may have learned it when they were students. For example, I recently worked with a group of teachers who knew the formula for surface area and volume of a cylinder but never had a chance to unpack why or how it works.
My goal is that through experiencing math this way, teachers will see a benefit to this way of learning–that when we have the experience of seeing why a formula works or how it works, we have a different experience, which leads to a different type of understanding.
I’ve been trying to think about how I select and modify tasks I use with teachers. It’s similar to how I select tasks for student in some ways and different in others. Here’s what I have so far:
- The task starts by asking for a prediction or estimate of the final answer: This gives everyone an entry point, builds on what they already know, and it allows me to assess where the group is. It’s not always necessary but it helps.
- Knowing the formula is not enough to complete the task: Because teachers have often memorized formulas or procedures, I need to make sure the task can’t be answered solely by knowing the procedure. I want a task that creates a need to unpack the formula or procedure they already know or apply it in a new way.
- I can provoke an interesting discussion based on a common misconception. Sometimes someone in the group has the misconception. Sometimes I will bring it up. Either way, this type of discussion allows me to have a conversation about how important it is to anticipate misconception.
- They have to prove WHY something is true. This allows me to set norms about what it means to convince or prove in math. I can create the shared understanding that we don’t just want to prove something works but that we want to explain why it works.
- It can be used with students with minor tweaks. At the end of the day, I want teachers to walk away with something they can try out in their classes
I’ll share some of the tasks I’ve modified next time, but I’m curious what else you would add to this list. How do you choose tasks to use in professional development?