Not Mathematically Minded, But Exploring Math in New Ways

Blended Learning Book in Progress…

Excerpt from Chapter 17: Math

My book on blended learning has a chapter dedicated to each of the main subject areas to spark ideas for teachers across disciplines who are using online discussions to complement their work in class.

I easily wrote my chapter on English and was eager to begin my work on history and science- both subjects I feel quite confident designing curriculum for. I knew I was procrastinating on math because I was not entirely sure how I would approach the chapter given that math is my weakest subject.

I decided to face my fears head on and approach my work as an investigation- a problem to be solved. I often speak about the benefits of developing a community of inquiry in the classroom to encourage students to explore, reason, connect, deliberate, challenge and develop problem-solving skills. As I continued to stare at the title of my math chapter, I realized I needed to follow my own advice.

I had the good fortune of stumbling upon Judy Willis’ article in Edutopia about the benefits of writing in the subjects of math and science. Willis, former neurologist and teacher, has combined her passions with research to discuss the way young brains develop and how writing is instrumental in learning. For me, her assertion supported the work I am trying to do with the integration of online discussions. She states, When writing is embedded throughout the curriculum, it promotes the brain’s attentive focus to classwork and homework, boosts long-term memory, illuminates patterns, gives the brain time for reflection, and when well-guided, is a source of conceptual development and stimulus of the brain’s highest cognition.” Despite the obvious benefits of writing on conceptual development and cognition, writing is seldom a focus in mathematics.

After reading her article, I was introduced to Dr. George Cicchetti who “draws on his expertise and experiences as an elementary teacher, school psychologist, Psychology Professor and instructional designer and trainer for both industry and education.” Besides being an inspiring educator, he has developed some innovative ways to integrate technology and math. We began discussing the concept of math journals and how they could be adapted to work seamlessly with online discussions and Collaborize Classroom specifically.

Dan Meyer, a young and innovative math teacher, also has an incredible blog where he shares his exciting new approach to teaching math. I love his real world approach and his desire to shorten the distance between “Wow that’s cool” and “Hey kids look at this.”

Judy Willis, George Cicchetti and Dan Meyer have helped to guide my approach to this chapter on math. I wanted to share just the first three paragraphs as evidence of my progress. I decided to begin this chapter honestly to share my journey because it mirrors the experience of so many students who immediately shut down when they do not understand a concept or do not enjoy a subject.

An excerpt:

I realize in some ways this is the hardest chapter for me to write in this book because I am not mathematically minded. I struggled in math because it seemed so foreign to me growing up. I never had a clear sense of how the formulas, variables and mathematical concepts applied to my own life. My teachers walked my class through the introduction of the chapter we were currently studying in the book- basically reading the paragraph explanations of the topic- then we practiced problems quietly in class. Talking to my peers to ask questions or check if I was doing a problem correctly was not allowed. Talking was disruptive and checking my accuracy was cheating.

As I write this, my hope is to use my own unsuccessful experiences in math to support teachers in reaching more kids by encouraging a class dialogue around concepts, allowing students to work in collaborative groups and explore ways of using writing in an online discussion forum to cement what is being learned.

Judy Willis MD, former neurologist and teacher, asserts, “When learning is examined through shared writing, students are exposed to multiple approaches to solving problems. This is so important in building the flexibility and open-minded approach to other cultures as the science, math, and technology world is indeed global…They build communication skills they will surely use in their collaborations now and in the future science and math communities they will enter.” Providing students a safe online space in which to examine concepts, problem solve, ask questions and share strategies for success can support them moving beyond simply understanding the work but, hopefully, enjoying the process.

I am happy to say that the influence of these dynamic educators have inspired me to finally begin my chapter on math integrating many of their ideas into the frame of online discussions. The chapter will explore online math journals that drive online discussions and student created mathematical challenges taken from life. I welcome the wisdom and knowledge of any math teachers or enthusiasts who want to share their ideas on the topic!


began to research and read some of the fascinating things being done in the field of math. As so often happens in life, inspiration found me and I stumbled onto some of the most fascinating information, ideas and people. As a result I have decided to begin my math chapter before tackling history or science because I am so inspired.

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