Open House night; cue anxiety and sweaty palms! Hope my students’ parents don’t mind.
I just began my seventh year of teaching middle school mathematics. Middle school is a limbo land filled with prepubescent pre-teens, drama, and students trying to find their individual voice without drawing too much attention to themselves (sigh). There are sixth grade boys and girls in my class who are taller than me, 5’9”. Some of the boys have mustaches while others still look like they’re in third grade. It’s a difficult year for the students. This is their last year before moving onto the even weirder, and much more confusing junior high. Students are anxious about this being the last year of elementary school, and so are the parents; maybe even more anxious than their little boys and girls becoming young men and women. I think it is my job to help ease this transition, and to get them excited about what is to come.
Open House night has always been one of those nights that I have prepared tirelessly to make perfect for that first impression, but always fell short of my own expectations. Too many faces. . . too many names. . . too many handshakes. . . people coming, people going. . . oh so many Kleenex boxes. Families shuffle through the school, trying to orient themselves. It’s a busy night—sometimes too busy. This year, I wanted to do something different, at my own pace, to set the tone for the school year. Light bulb: Parent Math Night! My school hadn’t done an event like this in forever.
There was a lot to get excited about. I was using a new curriculum. My Director of Curriculum introduced me to Illustrative Mathematics (IM) 6–8 Math last February, informing me that this “new” curriculum that just received the “highest ever rating by EdReports.” I gave it a go. It blew my mind. There’s full classroom engagement, student discourse, student arguments, enjoyment, laughter, and engagement (I know, I said it twice, but it’s true). I fell in love with the curriculum and enjoyed implementing it with my sixth graders.
I spent this last summer trying to figure out how to put together a Parent Math Night to show families what a problem-based learning (PBL) structure is, how it works, and why it is necessary for my students to be problem-solvers. I was scrolling through some posts on the IM Facebook page when I found a post about Building a Supportive Home/School Partnership with a link to a Family Night downloadable. My prayers had been answered. IM Authors and facilitators put all of this information together in a nice downloadable pdf that I was able to easily use. My job was to get parents to come.
Fast forward to two weeks after open house. It’s 4:30 in the afternoon. I’ve invited all my students’ parents to “come learn about the problem-based learning structure using the Illustrative Mathematics curriculum.” Five parents show up, then a few more, and finally I have 18 parents in my classroom for the first of two sessions. I’m excited to have more people than I had anticipated!
The Family Night downloadable pdf contains sixth, seventh, and eighth grade activities using a lesson from each grades first unit. The structure is the same, the activities are the same, the only difference is who’s in the classroom.
I started my lesson asking the question, “What does it mean to you to ‘do math’?”
I got typical responses: “adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing numbers” and “using numbers to solve problems.” I then informed the parents that I would be using a PBL structure to present the material, and told them that we would revisit the question at the end of the session.
Before we began the lesson with the first activity, I informed parents that we would be engaging with sixth grade mathematics. They had tools from the geometry toolkit available to use. Most importantly, parents had be able to support their answers with evidence. I went through the standard time allotment, gave instructions as if they were my own sixth graders, got some sarcastic responses, and then released them to their own thinking and partner sharing. I don’t think they knew what was going to happen, but I did. They were engaged. They were arguing. They were (productively) struggling. I smiled. By the end of the lesson I had each parent hanging on to everything I said. I had their attention, I had their interest, I had their support. This was something I know I struggled with in years past.
We revisited the question from the beginning of our session “what might it mean for students to ‘do math’?” The answers changed to include:
- Working together to solve problems.
- Working together to share ideas and different processes to come to the same conclusion.
- To struggle, but support each others learning.”
These answers make a difference. I walked away from this experience knowing I changed minds, knowing that my students’ parents had a different idea about all this “new” math.
Overall, I had a third of my students represented at Parent Math Night, who will take what we did that night and share it with the two-thirds that were unable to come. I am beyond excited about how the night went. Now it’s my students’ turn.
I think it’s safe to say that I will continue Parent Math Night from this point forward. I always wanted to do something different, something impactful for the parents to start off the year on a high note. I found my niche. I think it’s imperative to gain the support and trust from the parents just as much as it is the students. Doing this allows communication to flow freely.It allows future situations and concerns to be addressed knowing that caring is at the foundation of each discussion. If two-thirds of the party are in agreement, just think how much easier it is for that last party member to join in.