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"See, I'm good at math!" (Field Log, Camden 2/28)

jo's picture

I absolutely LOVED the time we spent with the fifth graders on Friday. It was so refreshing to be around young people, and at the same time it felt very productive, like we were doing good work together, creating ties between two very different groups of people. Though they were sort of supposed to be "teaching" us the planting process, the kids I was working with hadn't really remembered the steps, and since I have experience with planting seeds (and also since I was the adult figure and so gravitated to the leadership position naturally due to ageism), I ended up teaching them and it felt like a prelude to the lesson later in the afternoon. It was really interesting to reflect on the fact that, had I not learned the small details of gardening from my mother - poke a tiny hole with your finger, cover gently with a small amount of dirt and don't press down or pack it in) - I would not have felt nearly as confident in the instructions I gave.

I felt far less confident, however, when we got to the math lesson, despite our extensive preparation. There was really no way I could have prepared for four students at completely different levels of understanding, interest, and attention spans, for the chaos of managing all those at once and remaining calm and coherent, for students who don't just grasp what you're trying to explain after a short amount of explanation.

Kelsey and I had two boys and two girls in our math group. The fact that the students didn't get to pick their groups felt alarming and concerning at first, since it hadn't been our expectation, but thinking back, assigning groups was clearly the most time-effecient strategy. So then we got into our groups and it turns out that explaining things in a way that is both understandable and interesting to 11-year-olds is not as straightforward as I had assumed. But we got past that and I think they pretty much got what we were getting at. They definitely had an understanding of fractions (though some were much quicker and more confident than others), and it seems the activity we led gave them some good practice, even if it didnt' necessarily further their understanding.

I also think the connection to the morning was quite obvious, which was helpful since making the connection between math and gardening was an important goal of ours. I only wish I had known that we would be seeding (I guess that's logical given the time of year) rather than planting in raised beds, because our activity could have easily converted to planting a flat of seeds rather than a garden plot, and it would have connected even more if we had known in advance the sizes of the flats (like that they were 5x20, that we were planting two seeds in each, etc). I guess we didn't really ask the right questions of Michael (didn't know what questions to ask) and he likely would not have been able to tell us anyway since Ari was running the show.

Regardless, I think the lesson went well (if not smoothly) and I felt some degree of participation from all four students, though much less from one boy and much more from one girl. I particularly enjoyed teaching that girl, because she was so excited about figuring the problems out, and it reminded me how I used to feel about math when I was in elementary school. She was so confident in her self - she knew this was something she was good at it, explaining that that's why math is her favorite subject. She did sount a little concerned when she heard there would be a test on fractions next week, and though I'm sure she'll do great (and probably much better than many of the others), I feel worried about her passion and spirit getting squashed over time by tests and assessment, by not always measuring up to expectations. But probably a lot of that is projections about the way my own education has gone.