Building Enduring Mathematical Understanding, one lesson at a time.

Reflections: Why “findingEMU?”

There is a blurb on my “about” page that describes the title of my blog:

Enduring Mathematical Understanding is found within, built upon your own foundation, framed by your current perceptions, and constructed from your experiences. By sharing my thoughts, ideas, and ramblings with others, I hope to encourage the growth of positive dialogue towards this lifelong goal for myself and others.

Wow! I really came up with that on my “first day” blogging, what seems like ages but was just over three weeks ago! (I did say “ramblings,” and that’s sure the truth.)

I have thought about writing a blog for quite awhile now. (Still to come – my “From Lurking to Learning” post.) Over time I toyed with different choices:

“MathMom” because I was a part time teacher / part time stay at home mom. My kids were (ARE) both math fanatics, and I would like to share some stories about watching them grow as mathematicians. (While I don’t exactly have their permission, I have put a few memories down on “paper” over the past few weeks.) However, “Math Mama Writes,” a blog that I have read, appreciated, and enjoyed for many years now, already had a claim on that type of title, so I decided to move on. (In addition, my kids have grown and I don’t find nearly as any opportunities to “be” a Math Mom anymore 😦 .)

My next thought was “Making Math Meaningful” (shortened to M^3….ooh!) While it has a nice ring to it, and it IS a part of what I try to do in my classroom, what does “meaningful” mean? Definition: full of meaning (duh!) significance, purpose, or value; purposeful (you mean, like “full of purpose”?); significant. I DO want to help students find meaning in math, see its value, know that it has purpose. However, my lessons are not “chock full of 3-Acts,” so it didn’t seem to quite capture the “spirit” of my classroom.

Recently, the phrase “Enduring Understandings” seems to have taken its place alongside “Standards,” or “Essential Learnings,” but I really like the use of the term “Enduring.” Teachers complain all the time about lack of retention – students can learn something for a week or a month, but it is no where to be found after that. What is it that makes the learning endure?

Now, “Understanding,” that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms. It seems like last spring, but it was only in June that I read Richard Skemp’s paper on Relational Understanding and Instrumental Understanding. I ran across it by linking from a Math Mama Writes post to The Republic of Math blog. (I can’t imagine why I didn’t read it when it first came out – oh yes, I was still in Elementary School!) It is a powerful piece, written 36 years ago, that, for me, emphasizes the difference between when a student says, “I understand!” and when they truly do. “Conceptual Understanding” vs “Procedural or Algorithmic Understanding” are more commonly used today, but I feel that, in reality only “Conceptual” actually reflects true “Understanding.”

So, that’s what it all boils down to for me. How DO I help my students FIND Enduring Mathematical Understanding? I can’t find it FOR them – sometimes I have a hard enough time finding it for ME. I don’t want the “I can do it!” math, I want the deep comprehension down in their core that builds and branches off from what they DO really know and understand. What I do in the classroom: the questions I ask, the answers I “don’t give,” but the way in which I respond to questions, the student dialogue I promote, the activities I provide that lead without “dragging them along,” and the culture of the classroom that I help establish, are all ways that I can help them on their journey.

I love the crafty stuff, notebook organization, games and activities, and “monster” whiteboarding plans (tooooooo Monday links to post!) that I have been bombarded with over the past few weeks, (I think I have at LEAST tripled my Google Reader) and the discussions about SBG, (or sbar?) how to deal with the homework hassles, and uses for technology on Twitter. However, what I really cherish from the past three weeks are the conversations about teaching fraction division with/for understanding (“I hate “magic math”,”) introducing integer operations with meaning (“I abhor – is that too strong a word? – the “follow the rules” approach”, and re-defining slope (NOT just “rise over run” – KA), running across David Coffey’s ideas about flipping homework that gives “practice problems” an entirely different level of meaning from back in February, and finding Michael Pershan’s fabulous new (in addition to his insightful “regular” one) blog, Math Mistakes where readers are faced with the tasks of identifying not only “what don’t they know,” but what DO they understand and thoughts on remediation – how can I meet them where they’re at?

Deep breath. One sentence?! I’m not editing. (Except to add MORE words, I suppose.)

findingEMU – oh, like “Finding Nemo!” Well, yeah, I went for the “catchy” goofy title that resembles a wonderful little Pixar movie, but with an odd looking flightless bird instead of an adorable clownfish.

Only I guess I really didn’t, because I really AM trying to find ways to reach EMU.

Single Post Navigation

12 thoughts on “Reflections: Why “findingEMU?”

  1. Wow. You’ve really identified many of the very same interests, topics, and concerns that I have, down to the deep breath over sentence structure (I stress over the idea of writing without major editing) and over-analyzing blog names (even though I’ve been told not to worry about that, I can’t make myself do it). Hopefully soon I will be able to overcome my perfectionist problem and just jump in!

    Oh, and I just edited my own comments at least 3 times!

    • 🙂 a thanks for the comment, Alisan.

      Yes, I struggle with those “perfectionist tendencies” as well. Sometimes they really interfere with being a good teacher, since I don’t think there will “ever be” a “perfect lesson” – but that doesn’t mean I don’t try. It is also something I have been working through in “jumping in” to the mathblogtwitterverse – letting people see the imperfections!

      Sent from my iPad

      • The word perfect is so misleading… “perfect” in what situation? for whom? on what day? in what classroom? So many subjective factors that play into what makes lessons “perfect,” that I don’t know if that truly exists… That said, I am like you in that I also reflect and revise my materials to no end!

        I was wondering for a while what “EMU” stood for… I guess I should have looked more carefully at the subheading of your blog! This post really strikes a chord with me because I am so very interested in enduring understanding as a concept. Especially when it relates to looking at memorizing vs truly understanding and the tangled web those two weave…

      • Thanks. Love your last sentence – always such a challenge!

        Sent from my iPad

    • I am glad to know that my mind isn’t the only one that turns negative in a vacuum. Also, have you ever heard of NVC? Non-Violent Communication? It’s a really cool sort of technique, and I don’t know all that much about it, but it has to do with identifying needs rather than placing blame and stuff like that. We used to use it at a Shambhala Bueiidsm-insphrdd therapeutic community I worked at. If you are interested in communication that is effective in the work place or in relationships of any kind, I recommend looking into it real quick.

  2. I wonder if instead of it being a “perfectionist problem” it’s noticed as a tendency to reflect and revise. Sounds like a great problem solver trait!

  3. Pingback: msSunFun: Start, Stop, Continue « findingEMU

  4. Pingback: Made4Math Monday: Monster Whiteboards « findingEMU

  5. I have to admit, I was thinking of the bird when I read your blog title too 🙂 Thanks for explaining it for us!

    • Pour moi, Starwars est mort depuis longtemps, très longtemps. Seuls les 3 premiers épisodes (si, si, j’insiste) valent le coup, le reste n’est que commercial, sans saveur et avec effets spéciaux à gogo pour compenser le manque de talent des réalisateurs. Donc, oui, rien d&o;ouqsétrnnant que LUCAS vende, c’est la meilleure chose qu’il avait à faire, la magie a de toute façon disparue.

  6. Pingback: Reflections: Lurking to Learning « findingEMU

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: