Chase Orton (@mathgeek76) recently asked about my PD resolution for 2017.  I had so many that I couldn’t limit my response to just one.  I want to read more books about teaching and learning math.  I want to grow my conceptual understanding of the math concepts in the 7-12 grade span to strengthen the coherence of the work I do in grades K-6.  I want to blog more in order to chronical and share my journey with others.  These were the responses I shared with the #MTBoS on Twitter.

Shortly after creating this list though, I read Sarah Caban’s blog in which she considered her own math intuition in a very raw and vulnerable way.  Sarah was willing to put her imperfect and in-progress thoughts out there for others to consider.  Her bravery was not lost on me.

Shortly after reading her blog and considering my own math intuition, I saw this image:


This made me reflect upon what I model for both the teachers and students I work with. Am I modeling the bravery that I expect of those that I teach?  Am I putting my mathematical ideas out there, like Sarah Caben, even when I know that there is a chance that the answer is not correct?

It occured to me in that moment that I have a real #mathconfession to make to the math community and beyond…

I am afraid of getting the wrong answer.

I am afraid of what others will think of me when I do.

I am afraid that trusting my math intuition will make others think less of my math ability, as I am sure that my intuition will sometimes lead me to make mistakes and those mistakes will be visible to others.

There.  I said it.

It is amazing to me after all the years I have shared with teachers and students that we must have a growth mindset and that mistakes are opportunities to learn in math that I still haven’t internalized this truth for myself…yet.

I felt compelled to share this not-so-pretty turth about myself as I know that acceptance of this fact will help me grow beyond it.  I also thought that perhaps there are others out there who are still grappling with this fear and that we could support each other in this journey.

I recently heard Tracy Zager (@TracyZager) speak at CMC-North about mathematical intuition and the incredible need to develop it in students.  I realize now that in order to help students and teachers find and develop their intuition, I must first develop my own. In order to do that, I must be willing to accept that I will make mistakes on this new path.

Looking back on my mathematical upbringing, most of my learning was achieved procedurally.  As a student, I wasn’t given a chance to develop my mathematical intuition. I was taught to listen, remember, and perform.  I wonder now if this was learning math at all.

Why is it that in many, if not all other curricular areas, the process of revision is emphasized and praised, yet this is not true of mathematics?  In the process of writing, students are taught to create and revise drafts of work on the way to a final product.  In science, the process of creation, experimentation, and revision is the way of doing business.  Yet in math, performance rather than process is often what is held as the definition of success.  Until we can change the script on this view of mathematical success in a major way, I fear that many will have the same view of mathematical success and mistakes that I am still struggling with today.

So here I am, with the uncomfortable knowledge that I must redefine my own definition of mistakes in math.  I must be willing to make mistakes publicly in order for not only my own growth, but the growth of the mathematical community I support and from which I learn.

With that I commit to making math mistakes and learning from them in 2017 and I ask you…

What is your #mathconfession and how will you use it to propel you in the new year?



Published by: jgarner05

I am a math consultant with the Stanislaus County Office of Education. It is my passion to work with teachers to improve math content understanding and instruction.


3 thoughts on “#mathconfession”

  1. Dear Jgarner05, I once read a very wise thought from ancient China which I have told many times to my teenage students, when I reckoned it might help them. Now, you look so young in your avatar that I think you might like it too. Here it is: “Don’t waste your time asking yourself what others think of you. They are only asking themselves what you think of them”. Nice, isn’t it? Thank you for your confession, francesca.


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