Recently I purchased a new vehicle. I was excited to drive it, but I was overwhelmed with all of the buttons and knobs. When I started driving my new vehicle, I stuck to the basic functions that got me from point A to point B. As I became more experienced around my vehicle, I began playing with some of the buttons and knobs that introduced new functions of my car to me. The functions had been in my vehicle the whole time, but I was not aware of them. I had to start at the basics before I could become aware of what else my vehicle was able to do (other than getting me from point A to point B). This process is similar to what young children go through while they are trying to make sense of number.
When I began working at the AIMS Center and reading research about how children come to know number concepts, I was struck by the recurrence of the word “awareness”. This word keeps me focused on my work, but it also ties back to my experience as a classroom teacher. I was aware that my students needed more meaningful experiences in their mathematics instruction. I was also aware that the math books adopted by my district were not going to provide what I needed to address all of the mathematical levels in my classroom. And, during my late nights reading, I became aware that I did not have enough hours in the day to read and research more ways to help my students.
My work now at AIMS makes me consider the word “awareness” through a different lens. I focus on what students are aware of when they engage in a math problem. I watch students to see if they are attending to manipulatives, fingers, movement, or number words. I try to discern if they are reflecting on previous experiences when solving a math problem. Being aware of what a child is doing while solving a math problem tells me so much about where the child is on their journey of understanding number. Just like my experience with my new vehicle, a child will notice the new things when they are ready to become aware of them.
My experience as a classroom teacher helps me reflect on what my students were aware and not aware of when they worked on math problems. Those reflections come to mind every time I sit down to read research. I now know that this research was the missing link in my “teacher toolbox”. The information I have constructed has given me a new lens on what I was encountering in my classroom. I look forward to sharing and helping teachers construct their own new knowledge about children’s mathematics to add to their “teacher toolbox”. I also hope to be a link through AIMS between what researchers are writing and what information teachers need to be aware of in order to make math instruction meaningful to students. Join me on this journey as I share it through my blog posts.