August 2020, Volume 23

Why Do We Learn Math?

Really, why? As you reflect on your own response, do you notice it has changed over the years? Mine has definitley evolved over time, for the better I hope! Is it about earning points? Is it about getting the one right answer to a one-right-answer kind of problem? Is it about completion? I am hopeful it is none of those things to you. Reflect now on how we teach math. Even how we assess student understanding of it. Are these reflections lining up? It is okay if they don't. But we all need to be making efforts to align our beliefs about our whys of learning math with our hows of teaching it so that students can truly see the beauty within the content.

I recently came across an old tweet from @TinaCardone that said, "When's the last time you acknowledged hard work by each of your students? When's the last time someone acknowledged your hard work?" Think about that as we embark on yet more unchartered territory this school year. We at IDOE want to thank you for your hard work, your passion, and your unwavering desire to engage your students in the learning process.

Continue to think about your why and your how as you begin another year with students.

Video of the Month

"Real life math is not about finding the volume of the ravioli can in the cupboard, or slicing up your pizza into a bunch of fractions, or finding diameter of coins in your pocket. Those are real things but they don't contribute in any meaningful way to understanding the real world." - Maththatmatters

Watch this video to hear a perspective on why we learn mathematics and how we should teach it.


Problems of the Month - Talking Math

Talking Math anchors around one image to promote noticing, wondering, and inquiry while aligning to standards and grade-level content.

Provide only the visual first and ask the questions:

  • What do you notice?
  • What do you wonder?

From here there are many ways to continue the conversation. Some ideas include:

  • Send slides to students for them to independently or collaboratively respond digitally.
  • Send slides to families to offer opportunities for math talk and to make connections around the same image with all their children of different grade levels.
  • Start a conversation about math in the world around them with the picture as a starting point and slowly revealing each question to work through in a whole group.
  • Allow small groups to work through the task.

Some great sentence starters to use are:

  1. Tell me more about . . .

  2. Are there more ways we can try?

  3. Can you help me understand . . . ?

  4. How do you see it? Can you show me a drawing?

This activity has been adapted from the Illustrative Mathematics (IM) Talking Math family support resource. Click here to access additional ideas in both English and Spanish!


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For all of the K-5 IM Talking Math prompts click here.


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Click here for more IM Talking Math 6-8 Resources.

Finding Our Collective Why

Paul Ernest (2010), emeritus professor of philosophy of mathematics education at the University of Exeter, UK, provides clarity as to why we teach math:
  1. Necessary Math - functional numeracy, work-related knowledge and skills, and economic need
  2. Social and Personal Math - posing and solving mathematical problems, development of math confidence, and social empowerment through mathematics
  3. Appreciation of Mathematics as an Element of Culture - history of mathematics and its role in culture and society

In 2000, NCTM's publication Principles and Standards for School Mathematics, argued students need to learn mathematics (and therefore we teach mathematics) "for reasons beyond, but including, necessary mathematics".These include:

  1. Mathematics for Life
  2. Mathematics as Part of Cultural Heritage
  3. Mathematics for the Workplace
  4. Mathematics for the Scientific and Technical Community (p.4)

It is not surprising that the emphasis of most curricula is typically on the teaching and learning of "necessary mathematics". However, showing students the joy and beauty that math can bring, increasing enthusiasm to learn math, empowering students as math learners and doers, and cultivating and nurturing student identity through honoring diverse cultures and their contribution to math is arguably more valuable than simply preparing students for the next math class. One could even argue that teaching with this focus will take care of the rest!

Your challenge this year is to talk within your PLC, as a department, or even with friends who just love math and find answers to the following questions:

  1. Why do you teach math?
  2. What are your school or department's learning goals for students? Are they broad enough?
  3. Are your school or department's learning goals clear to students and parents?
  4. Are your school or department's learning goals reflected in your curriculum?

Take a moment to read more here.

A Vision for Mathematics

Social justice teaching in mathematics promotes equity in the math classroom while empowering students to understand and confront inequities outside of the classroom. High-quality math instruction is one piece of the puzzle but also looking at the messages math curricula is sending provides insight to overcoming the challenges our students face in the math classroom.

Consider this problem (source):

It costs $1.50 to travel each way on the city bus. A transit city "fast pass" costs $65 a month. Which is a more economical way to get to work, the daily fare or the fast pass?


5 workdays in a week x 4 weeks per month = 20 workdays in a month

20 days x $3 roundtrip = $60, so the daily fare is cheaper

This problem is assuming a 5 day work week and the "fast pass" is only used for the work commute. Some students may struggle to solve this problem asking, "How many jobs does this person have?" "How many days a week do they work?"

The inequities in this question cater to the dominant group in our society reflecting a strong message of who is capable of succeeding at mathematics and inherently gives easier access to some students.

So, what can you do?

  • Open problems up to allow for multiple solution paths and solutions. Allow students to make assumptions and draw on their own lived experiences to answer.
  • Ask students what information would be helpful to answer the question if one solution is desired.
  • Engage students in meaningful and relevant math content.
  • Affirm student's identities to help them see themselves in mathematics.
  • Question the status quo - Ask yourself, "Who is the math for?" and "Why do we value certain things in math?
  • Empower students to use mathematics to question important issues in their own lives.

For Social Justice Math lesson plans, resources, and readings click here.

Math Roots

Looking for ways to rehumanize mathematics? Explore these resources to build connection, identity, and inclusivity in your math community.

Desmos Check-in Screens

Desmos has created Starter Screens for a variety of purposes. The Screens for Checking-In are a great way to engage your students and get a status on how your students are feeling. Using a variety of interactive elements, check-in on your student's feelings, life events, preferences, and more! Check them out here. There are some other starter screens available here to check for understanding and getting to know your students.

Instructional Support Survey - How Can We Help?

Opportunities for the Field

Learning By Doing with John SanGiovanni’s Book Productive Math Struggle: A 6-Point Action Plan for Fostering Perseverance

Join IDOE’s math team and fellow Indiana math educators for an action-oriented, learning by doing book study where John SanGiovanni outlines six essential actions for nurturing productive struggle. This is not your average book study. Over the course of 12 weeks, we will explore each of the six essential actions through discussion, implementation, and reflection to “support access, equity, and empowerment, specifically arguing that every student is worthy of struggle”.

Sign up here to participate!

Save the Date

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Upcoming Chats:

August 19, 2020 - School Improvement

August 26, 2020 - Cultural Competency

Follow #INedchat to be a part of the discussion!

News From IDOE

High School Math Clarifying Examples and Digital Resources Now Available on the Framework!

Clarifying examples and digital resources for the following courses have been updated to reflect the new 2020 Indiana Academic Standard for Mathematics on the Framework:

  • Algebra I
  • Geometry
  • Algebra II
  • Analytical Algebra II
  • Precalculus: Algebra
  • Precalculus: Trigonometry

Quantitative Reasoning and Finite will be release in Fall 2020!

Higher Learning Commission Extends Deadline for Dual Credit Instructors

In light of the impact of COVID-19, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education requested in May that regional college accreditor Higher Learning Commission (HLC) extend the deadline for dual credit instructors to hold a master’s degree and at least 18 credit hours in the content area in which they teach. The HLC Board of Trustees voted to extend the deadline by one year – to September 1, 2023 – allowing faculty to have more time to earn the required credentials. The extension will not negatively impact students participating in dual credit programs. Additional details can be found here.

Educator Spotlight

Laura Handloser - Math Teacher - Seymour High School

I have always enjoyed math for as long as I can remember! It didn’t come easily to me, but I enjoyed it enough to work hard and try to excel in it. As some of my friends from high school would testify to, I enjoyed learning it in a way that I could help explain it to my classmates. They would often say that I helped them make it through high school math, but I would say, they were helping me become a future math teacher. I once asked my pre-calculus teacher and mentor, Mr. Stickles, if he thought I could be a math teacher to which he replied “yes”. Before I knew it, I was off to Indiana University.

I had the need to help people, so I thought I might major in Occupational Therapy. All it took was one college science class, where I was reminded that science was not my first love. I had done pretty well in my first Calculus class at IU, and from that moment on something clicked and I knew I wanted to become a math teacher. Even though it was challenging for me, I enjoyed everything about it. During my time as a secondary math major, I met other cohorts that were just like me! We often called ourselves “math geeks” or “math nerds”. We became good friends and helped each other through the classes. We are still all friends and teachers!

I had taught in two other schools before landing back at Seymour High School. The most ironic part of being hired was that the math opening was due to the fact that Mr. Stickles (my mentor) was retiring. (I even got his desk!) I still have several things that he used in his classroom and I will always cherish them dearly.

Just like all new teachers, my teaching schedule contained a lot of low-level classes for the first few years, which I thought of as a challenge. I wanted to reach kids and let them know that I was not just their teacher. I would be there anytime they needed me. I would ask about their day, families, jobs, or other classes to try and get to know each student as a unique person. Some days were more challenging than others! I believe it was those classes that taught me to become a more connected, empathetic, and well-rounded teacher.

For me, the math I teach students is important, but more important is the connection I make with them. I love seeing former students go on to achieve their goals. Nothing in my life has given me more satisfaction than being a secondary mathematics teacher!

Mathematics Educator Spotlight Nomination

We are looking for rock star math educators who are innovative and inspiring; educators who lead, learn, and collaborate with humility and passion. If you know someone (or are that someone) click the button and nominate them (or yourself)!

Your IDOE Mathematics Team