I have always been a rule follower. I like rules. I thrive in structured environments. I’m not very organized, but I am very structured, if that makes sense. I think that’s why math always came easy to me. I could easily memorize and follow rules. It wasn’t until I was already a teacher and took some math courses for Professional Learning that my rule following math approach was tested. Once I began my Master’s Degree in K-8 Math Ed from the UGA campus in Griffin my math world was really shaken up. I was a pro at getting my third graders to master the art of carrying and borrowing. They knew the “alligator’s mouth” opened to the biggest number. They knew when multiplying multiples of ten to just count the zeros and stick them to the end. They even knew “Daddy, Mama, Sister, Brother” for divide, multiply, subtract, bring down with long division. My students did great on the CRCT…those that were like me and remembered all the rules that is, which most could do. Was there conceptual understanding going on? A little. I broke out base 10 blocks and thoroughly explained how the algorithms worked. Have I mentioned I’m very detail oriented? Could my kids explain why the steps they were doing made sense mathematically? Probably not. Honestly I don’t know, because I never asked them, “Why?”. Then, during my Master’s program my teacher kept asking me why and wouldn’t give me the algorithm or let me use the traditional one. WHAT?!? I need the rules so I can follow them! What do you mean I’m supposed to think for myself? How is there more than one way to subtract other than crossing out and borrowing/trading? You DON’T have to carry a 1??? Mind blown. I read articles about student invented strategies. I read in Van de Walle’s books about it. I didn’t believe it. I decided to do my research paper with that as my thesis to see if students could even come up with anything that remotely worked. I learned a valuable lesson while letting my kids explore, experience hardships, and encouraging them to push forward all while fighting really hard (sometimes only through prayer) to just not give them the algorithm. I learned kids are smarter than we give them credit for. Yes, they need guidance and needed help organizing their thinking, but they came up with ways to do all 4 operations in ways that I still use. Anytime you learn anything and grow, you do it through a little hardship. My son is 8 months old. Everything he’s learning requires a lot of falling over before it’s mastered. Even knowing this, it’s an internal battle every year when it comes to subtracting with regrouping to not just show them the algorithm…especially now that I’m in second grade and they have little to no knowledge of it, but I’m fighting on and my kids are absolutely amazing me. More on my subtraction adventure later. I’m still a rule follower. I just make up my own rules to follow at times. Try it. Your kids will AMAZE you.

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Great post, Christy! Thanks for sharing the story of your growth as a math teacher. This is inspiring and I’m sure others will identify with it. Who knows…some of your readers may end up writing their own blog because they read yours. Can’t wait to read your next post.

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Thank you, Mike!

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