Every day on the way to our work site in Mexico, we passed a small sign on the side of a similarly small building that said, “Pan de Mujer, 5 pesos.” I speak Spanish but I was still a little unsure what this meant. I knew the words, but “woman’s bread” didn’t make sense, so I thought it might be an idiom for homemade bread. On our final day there, I had my wife stop the van and I jumped out to ask. I gave the elderly lady 5 pesos through a 2×2 foot window and in exchange she handed me a roll. I took it to the van and shared it with the teenagers that were working with us. It tasted amazing. I immediately ran back and bought a half dozen more.
Every day we pass by dozens of opportunities to pay a little attention and maybe discover something very special. To find those rolls, I needed to have more than just a watchful eye, I needed to be able to coordinate several things at one time. I had to notice the words from the moving van and figure out that something about the small homemade sign was different. This meant I had to have a readily accessible knowledge of Spanish to pull from and to manipulate to make the guess of the meaning of the sign. I had to reflect on the sign to the point that it would motivate me to act and be willing to stop and investigate further. Finally I just needed to have the courage to act on my guess.
As I move into the Coordinating Units team, I think about what it takes for students to be able to understand multiplication. For example, “find the total number of apples if 5 baskets have 6 apples each.” To figure out the answer, a student has to be able to coordinate the 5 as 5 single ones over which the groups of 6 are distributed. In either case the number has to come from a place where I don’t have to make the the number to use it. To enjoy “pan de mujer,” I had to coordinate the sign, the literal meaning, and the potential idiom, in a way that allowed myself space to think about the situation and be able to act on it.