I can’t believe it’s been a year since I embarked on this journey as a Research Associate at the AIMS Center for Math and Science Education. It has been an exciting transition for me, having the opportunity to pursue my passion for understanding how children develop their knowledge of mathematics. Over the last year, I have been able to spend hours reading and rereading research, watching videos, and working one-on-one with students re-enacting the protocols that I have read about. It is awesome to see the mathematics of students and observe student behavior that help us infer how they are developing their understanding of number.
This was my spring and summer schedule: read, watch, write, reflect, read, watch, write, reflect. Then September came and we were back working with a class of 2nd graders in their classroom, 4 groups of about 6 students. I still have the luxury of just being able to focus on just three things: our study, the students we are working with at a given time, and the task we are having them engage in. Yet there are still challenges to be faced. Working with 6 students versus 1 or 2 can make it challenging to notice all the students’ behavior. I find myself thinking about ways to manage the task to maximize the time (about 16 minutes per group) we are working with students. As a Research Associate, I have the benefit of being able to go back to my work space and debrief how each classroom session went, discuss observable student behavior, and what adjustments we are going to make next time, even analyze video of groups if I need to.
As we spent time in the classroom, I am reminded of all the things a classroom teacher has to juggle at once. When we are in the classroom, the teacher is running her math centers, which means that she has had to plan for what students are doing with her at her table, as well as the students at the three other centers around the room. Students have to be able to engage in these other centers independently. In addition to observing the student behavior at her own center, she has to make sure the rest of the class is engaged and on task and deal with any misbehavior and interruptions that come up. In other words, teachers have a lot of balls in the air at one time!
This is an important facet of teaching that I need to remember as I continue my work at the AIMS Center, because our ultimate goal is to translate the insights we have found about children’s mathematics from research to teachers in the classroom. I know that what we are doing will enhance what teachers are already doing in math instruction and not just add another ball for them to juggle!