Episode #130: Leveraging Cultural Capital In The Math Classroom – An Interview with Thomasenia Lott Adams
Today we speak with Thomasenia Lott Adams from the University of Florida — Go Gators! Thomasenia is a mathematics teacher educator/researcher with numerous accolations for teaching and the work she does with pre-service teachers.
We speak with Tomasenia today about how we can use students’ cultural capital to empower learning, why promoting student voice is so important in math class, and why increasing the number of meaningful “touch points” in math class helps amplify student voice.
- How we can use students’ cultural capital to empower learning in the math classroom;
- Why promoting student voice in the math classroom is so important;
- How you can strengthen mathematics literacy in your classroom.
- Why increasing the number of meaningful “touch points” in math class helps amplify student voice?
Thomasenia Adams: What are the meaningful touchpoints where we can have satisfied learners, where we can have learners that want to stay in the game, and we can have learners that are motivating to other learners? If you get that down even to the math class, what can we do in math class that are touchpoints? There are a lot of things. It's the tasks that we choose. It's the norms that we have. I work with crosstalk ...
Kyle Pearce: Today, we speak with Thomasenia Lott Adams from the University of Florida. Go gators. Thomasenia is a mathematics teacher, educator, researcher with numerous accolations for teaching in the work she does for pre-service teachers. We speak with Thomasenia today about how we can use students' cultural capital to empower learning, why promoting student voice is so important in math class, and why increasing the number of meaningful touchpoints in math class helps amplify that student voice. Well, Jon, are you ready to dive in?
Jon Orr: Let's do this one.
Kyle Pearce: Welcome to the Making Math Moments that Matter Podcast. I'm Kyle Pearce.
Jon Orr: I'm Jon Orr. We are from makemathmoments.com, and we are two math teachers who, together ...
Kyle Pearce: With you, the community of math moment makers worldwide who want to build and deliver problem-based math lessons that spark curiosity ...
Jon Orr: Fuel sense making ...
Kyle Pearce: ... and ignite your teacher moves. Jon, I'm really excited to bring Thomasenia on the podcast. We've been waiting a while for this one to come out, and it was great having a chat with her here today. I can't wait to dive in with everyone.
Jon Orr: You're right, and we are honored to have her here with us, so, hey, let's not waste any time today. Let's dive right in. Hey there, Thomasenia. Welcome to the Making Math Moments that Matter Podcast. We are so excited to have you on the show today. How are you doing in COVID time but also back to school time?
Thomasenia Adams: I'm great. I had a friend say to me, yesterday was Monday and today is second Monday, so I'm doing good on this second Monday.
Kyle Pearce: Fantastic, fantastic. We just came off of a long weekend here in Canada as we're recording this, and we are just rolling into this week. We're really curious. We want to get to know you a little bit more. Tell us a little about yourself and bring our math moment makers up to date. What's your role in education, and actually, where are you coming to us from today?
Thomasenia Adams: I am coming to you from Gainesville, Florida, home of the Florida Gators at the University of Florida. I currently am a professor of mathematics education and associate dean for research in the college of education.
Kyle Pearce: Awesome. Awesome stuff.
Jon Orr: Even though I am a Canadian, I have always had, almost a crush, on the Florida basketball team. It was always my team, especially when I was younger, but, go gators.
Thomasenia Adams: Yes.
Jon Orr: Thomasenia, could you maybe dive a little bit deeper in for us? We're always interested in educators and how they got into education and where did that come from. I wouldn't mind if you fill us in on a little bit of backstory of what led you into that role and give us a little bit of lead up to that.
Thomasenia Adams: Wow. That is so interesting because it takes me back to being a little girl. I was born on a chicken farm to Pickins and inaudible Lott. I'm the youngest of eight, so I had a lot of people telling me what to do all the time, so it was like having two parents and then seven other people pushing me around. Being the youngest of eight, though, had its advantages because by the time I knew myself, I was like an only child, because everyone else was so old, and were married off and had kids of their own, and so, here I was having my parents to myself.
That gave them an opportunity to talk to me a lot, and my mother, who only had an 8th grade education until she was about 35 years old, always spoke to me about the power of education. She would often say, "I don't have it but that doesn't mean that you have to be the same way." Both my parents are deceased now. My father died at the age of 81 as an illiterate adult, but he was also saying, "Put something in your head, because if you put something in your head, no one can take that from you."
In their own ways, they taught me about the power of education. Some of this is self reflection. At the time, I didn't see that as that's what they were doing. It's like, looking back now, I can say, "Oh, that's what they were trying to do. That's the messaging they were trying to say," but I just didn't see it as a kid, growing up. It was, we don't have what other people have. We can't go where other people can go. We can't wear what other people can wear, but they still were doing what was in their power to do to show me that I could be better.
Kyle Pearce: Obviously, education was something that, that value that was instilled in you. How did that flow into your current role? For example, my mom was a single mom for my early years before she met my stepfather, and she was a big advocate for education, as well. She had a high school education, and at that time, at her age group, I suppose, there was many jobs out there and she was able to get a good paying job and she enjoyed her job, but it was something that she really instilled into my sister and I, but I guess my wonder is, what, then, maybe nudged you towards not only getting an education and going through that process, but then to also, in the end, want to be an educator and now, actually working with our pre-service educators?
Thomasenia Adams: It was a long journey, and it was full of mountains and roadblocks, I'll tell you. I grew up in Saluda, South Carolina, and it's an interesting place, or it was when I was a young kid and I'm looking at it now and it's still very interesting, but there were three things that people did in Saluda. You worked on a chicken farm, which is what my parents did, that's why we lived on a chicken farm, because that's where they worked at the time, you worked in the peach industry, which, I grew up with my parents, my brothers and my sisters, in the summer, taking advantage of the fact that it was peach season and going out into the fields and picking the peaches and harvesting the peaches, or you worked in what we used to call shirt factories.
Everything was called a shirt factor, even if they made tablecloths. We just called them all shirt factories. It's like, everything is Clorox. It doesn't matter what kind of bleach it is. This is Clorox.
Kyle Pearce: That's so true.
Thomasenia Adams: Yeah, that was the expectation, so being in high school, just school in general wasn't a fun place for me. Elementary school, for every kid, it should be awesome. It was awesome, but by the time I got to middle school, I was bullied a lot. I'm 55 years old now, and that was at a time where people didn't talk about bullying in the way we're talking about it now. If there was a fight at school, there was just a fight at school. Like, that was it.
Kyle Pearce: That was like, kids being kids.
Thomasenia Adams: That's right, and so I was bullied because I was skinny. I was bullied because I had big eyes. I was bullied because I had long hair. I was bullied because I wore boboes because that's what my parents could afford to buy for me. I was bullied because I wore clothes that my mother made, so if it didn't come out of the Sears Roebuck catalog, then she made it. Middle school was horrible, and I never told anyone, because, again, that wasn't what kids did. You didn't run and tell, because that only made the bullying worse, and so, I know that between middle school and high school, it was, let me shut down, be invisible, maybe the bullies won't see me.
By the time I got to high school, it was just, stay quiet, stay to yourself, and try to hide from the bad people, and I spent a lot of high school time doing that, and I remember being in a geometry class and not feeling like I needed to be there, belonged to be there, or anything, and I said to the teacher one day, I didn't do the homework. I didn't know how to do the homework, and it was kind of a bold thing for me to do, to step up and say something, because it was easy to just hide.
The class starts, and she calls me to the board. That was the first thing she did when she was ready to do the homework. "Thomasenia Lott, come to the board. Do problem number so and so." I thought, I'm not doing this anymore. I'm not going to be bullied anymore. I'm not going to be the one that's picked on anymore. How can I get out of this? I started screaming in class. I just started screaming. I had a meltdown, total meltdown. I fell to the floor and I just screamed and I remember the kids scattering and the teacher's, like, "Go to the office. Get the principal."
The principal comes in. HE doesn't know what to do. They call the guidance counselor and she didn't know what to do, so three adults just picked me up off the floor and took me to the front office where I proceeded to keep screaming, and they didn't even call my parents about this episode, but what they did is not make me go back to math class, so I spent the rest of that school year, when my friends and other students went to math class, I went to study hall.
When I got to study hall, there were other kids in study hall. We spent almost the entire school year in study hall, and kids were there because some of them had gotten into trouble and some of them would not pay attention in class, so the teacher would just send them to study hall, and I was thee because I decided that I didn't like mathematics and I wasn't going to have anything to do with it. At the time, that's what I thought. When I'm looking back at it now, I know it was because I did not know what else to do with myself as a teenager who was hurting and in need and needed someone to listen, but I didn't even know what to say.
That's what I did, and actually, the rest of high school, I pretty much did nothing, but I knew that I was going to, I won't even say graduate, I'll say get out. I knew I was going to get out, because everybody got out, and if you got out you just went to get one of those jobs that I spoke about. I get out of high school, and my first job is in a shirt factory, but this particular shirt factory made blue jeans. This was a time where people were wearing the button down blue jeans.
I was the, tell the button hole girl where to put the buttons, so I sat at a table, I had a stick that had five dots on it. I had a white chalk pencil, and my job was to grab a pair of blue jeans, put the stick next to the place where the buttons were going to go, and put the white dots at the place where the black dots were on the stick. When I did that five times, I had made 50 dots, and I would bundle up those pair of jeans and put them in a bin. I did that for 10 hours a day. I also worked in a peach house during the summer. I was one of the girls that sat on a stool and when the people would go out and pick the peaches, they would dump them on a conveyor belt and our job was to reach in and grab the rotten peach ones and jot them down the chute.
Across those two jobs is how I spent most of that first summer. One day, I'm working, I'm actually in the blue jean factory now, working, and by this time, my mother had gotten a job there, and I think something dawned on her, that she felt like, "Wait a minute. I've been telling this kid she could do something better, and now she's in this factory with me." My mom says to me one day, "You need to get out of here," and it's like, "Well, what else am I going to do?" I just didn't have a clue of what I was going to do, but she's like, "You need to get out of here."
That day, that very day, I went home and I really thought about what my mother said, and I wanted to be obedient, and I thought, this is what I'll do. I'll pretend like I'm trying to get out to satisfy her, and then maybe she'll stop bullying me and leave me alone. I got the little phone back and turned to the yellow pages. Gen Z know nothing about yellow pages, but that's all we had. I turned to the yellow pages and I went to the phone, and we had a shared line so I had to keep picking up to make sure the other neighbors were not on the phone. I flipped through the yellow pages and I saw, in the back, South Carolina Student Loan Corporation, and I thought, "Okay, maybe I'll call them and they can help me find some money and maybe I can go to college."
I just kind of told myself this, and so I called the number and the young man ... I said, "This is Thomasenia Lott and my mother said I should try to get out of Saluda." That's what I said to him because I didn't know what else to say.
Jon Orr: Can you help?
Thomasenia Adams: Yes, and he said, "What college do you want to go to?" I said, "I don't know." He said, "What did you score on the SAT?" I said, "What's the SAT?" I didn't even know what the SAT was. I had never spoken to a counselor at school. I wasn't one of the kids who was to go to college, see. He said, "Call me back when you know what college you're going to, you've taken the SAT." Well, I was in a pickle then, so I did the only strategy that I knew would work, because it worked when I was in high school, is I started crying. I just had a meltdown with this man on the phone.
He waited for me to finish, and he said, "Listen, it's not my job to help you get into college, but it sounds like you really need that. I want you to do this," and he gave me all the steps I needed to register for the SAT, where to take it, what to do. I followed his directions. He told me I needed to pick a school to apply to. I said, "What's the closest one to Saluda?" He said, "South Carolina State College." It was, like, 60 miles. Like, "Let's do that one," because I'm thinking, "I'm not going to get in. If I get in, I'll probably flunk out and I could get a ride home."
I did what he said. I took the SAT, like a week later. A couple of weeks later, I got a response from the school and they said they were letting me in. I'm like, "This can't be happening," and I told my parents and they took me to college and dropped me off. I'm leaving out some points, but eventually they took me to college and dropped me off. Now, when they dropped me off, here I was again without a clue of where I was, what I was supposed to be doing, and so, I remember the first day of being there, watching my roommate's parents unload her boxes and she had hangers and she was hanging her clothes in the closet. I'm looking at my suitcase, like, nobody told me that I needed to bring hangers.
I had no clothes hangers, and she had laundry detergent and her health and beauty aids. No one told me I needed to bring that stuff. I had nothing. All I had was the paperwork I had gotten from the orientation, and I had a meal card, so for the next three weeks I sat in the room and I would go to the dining hall and eat the meals, and I'd come back to the room. She came in one day and she said, "You know what, I don't even know why you showed up to college." Like, "You are depressing me and if you don't do something, I'm going to ask for a new roommate." I was like, "I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing," and she said to me, "There's a man in Nix Hall. I hear he's helping people. Why don't you go see him?"
I looked through the orientation papers. I got the college map. I found Nix Hall and I went to see him. She said, "His name is Willie Briggs," so I go see this man. I knock on the door, and I say, "Hi, I'm Thomasenia Adams. Can you help me?" He says, "I am so sick and tired of people coming here, saying can I help them, tell them what to do." He's like, "Give me the papers that are in your hand," so I gave him the papers that I had from orientation and I saw him marking things, and he was checking stuff, and he said, "I tell you what, young lady. If you don't do what I say, don't you ever come back to my office," and so I said, "Yes, sir."
By this time I'm shaking, and he says, "You take this over there to the registrar's office and you tell them you're a math major." That's how I became a math major.
Kyle Pearce: Wow.
Jon Orr: Yeah, the subject that you were like, "I'm never doing this again," it's like, now you're a math major.
Thomasenia Adams: Yes. I didn't realize that I was going to the mathematics department, that he was a math professor. I didn't even notice that, and I became a math major. His class was the first class that I took, and I'm thinking, "This dude doesn't know that I'm poor. He doesn't know that my parents are illiterate. He doesn't know that I just came out of working in a shirt factory and a peach house, and he doesn't know that I hated math and I wasn't good at anything in high school, and I guess what I'd better do is pretend like I like math and know math and do what he said, because he's the only friend I have," and that's what I did, and I graduated with my mathematics degree.
Jon Orr: Right. It's almost like ... I just had this image of, this guy just said, "You're going to go and become a math major," and it was almost like this permission for you is like, it's okay to like math or to not have those feelings towards school that you had in your early years. It's almost like this fresh start has just happened and this man has just given you permission to go ahead and do that. Your story is a very inspiring story. You showed so much bravery, I think, at numerous times, to start fresh, change this course of action, and I think that it's very inspiring to see that determination on your part.
Kyle Pearce: Jon, the part, too, that really sticks out to me, as well, which is kind of a beautiful ending and leaves you with this idea in your mind that this person, this professor, basically didn't care who you were. He knew that math was for everyone, and that's not really the story that a lot of people have been told or experienced through their own learning experiences. Jon and I usually ask people to share a memorable math moment from their past, but I think we may have just heard your memorable moment, which, really, it would be so easy at any point along that journey to just say, "Absolutely not. I am not going to go through with this and I'm not going to put myself out there," because it was hard, and you had these rough moments during your own educational experience.
I'm wondering, obviously that moment influenced where you are now in the fact that you followed through and that you had that bravery, that determination that Jon had mentioned, but how else does that moment and that story, the way it happened, how does it influence your work now in how you do things and how you help others to love education and math in particular? How does that transform or help you to be the person you are today and the advocate you are for math education?
Thomasenia Adams: Exactly right. He just saw a living, breathing being, and said, "You can do mathematics," without having my history. I'll tell you, I took a humanities course, too, in college, and one of the things that we had to do was write our personal history, and I wanted to put this story on paper for that course, so I wanted also to have evidence, so I decided to go back to my high school, get my high school record, and attach it to my paper as evidence.
When I went back to high school to go to the office to get my papers, I saw one of the previous teachers, and she stopped me and said, "Where have you been? I haven't seen you around." I said, "I'm not in Saluda anymore. I'm in college." She said to me, "I didn't know you had that in you," and so, the whole story of this experience has taught me not to make assumptions about students. That's the first thing, not to make assumptions. If someone doesn't know or will articulate that they don't know mathematics or don't like mathematics, there's probably a story behind it.
When kids don't come to school and they don't have their homework done or they don't have support to do projects, there's a story behind that, because I didn't have any lack of love in my family. I had lots of people loving me, but I didn't have anyone that had mathematical capital that could help me appreciate mathematics and engage in mathematics, so we can't make assumptions when we see people exhibit deficiencies and just assume, "Well, it's because no one cares," or, "They don't have any resources."
There's a story behind what people show us in their lives. The other thing, I think, that has followed me to where I am now as a mathematics educator is appreciating the strengths that someone shows, whatever those strengths are. I say to teachers all the time, "If you have a child that is having difficulty with basic operations like maybe they can't add well or, third, fourth grade, they don't know their multiplication tables, then they certainly still can be successful in geometry." You don't need to know addition to understand what a square is or a rectangle or a triangle or how rhombi relate to squares, so it's not as if one piece of mathematics where you're deficient, it shouldn't close the door on everything.
Jon Orr: Right, yeah. I think those are huge learnings that we can all apply to all of our teaching, for sure, like, do not make assumptions about students, appreciate strengths. I'll admit that when I first started teaching, I was very narrow focused. I was the typical, I taught the way I was taught in school, and I was all math all the time, all business as a high school teacher, and I fully admit, for eight years of my career, I didn't make those two things a priority that you just said were a priority for you. I was the guy that would stop a kid at the door going, "You're late. You're late for the third time." Not even ask the reason why, and mark it down, and say, "Now you have detention."
It was because, I don't even know why, but I guess my thinking was that rules are important, those basic things that they probably already know except that I was just holding it over their head and it wasn't until a few years later where I started to make that shift of totally listening to kids and understanding where they're coming from, what's their story. I think, I've made that shift, and it's totally changed the classroom dynamic in my class and, inaudible my love for teaching sparked up again just because it became about kids instead of math.
That was my learning journey and I'm still on that journey, but I wouldn't mind venturing into some of the work that you've been doing on supporting student voice. Kyle and I both watched your webinar on supporting student voice in the math classroom and we thoroughly enjoyed it. One quote that really resonated with us ... You used, actually, the word capital here already tonight, but one quote you said was that student voice was the cultural capital that students bring with them to the classroom. Can you share a little bit more about what that perspective on student voice is? We'd love to learn a little bit more about that phrase.
Thomasenia Adams: Yeah. Cultural capital is what makes me who I am. It's everything about my life makes me who I am, from the music I listen to, if and how I choose to worship or how I choose to recreate or family traditions and the things that are important, the history of my ethnicity, my race and how I appreciate my gender, all of these things, how I identify myself and how I choose to relate to others. All of those things are part of the cultural capital that each of us have. Each of us have experiences that have shaped who we are and how we engage with each other, and so often, we ignore the cultural capital that students bring to the classroom and we try to force them into the box of whatever's in the mathematics text, that's all that there is, and that's just not true.
I remember being a little girl and watching my dad, who, again, was illiterate but he was a functional illiterate adult, very productive, I remember seeing him do so many things, now, when I look back, that were so mathematical, from how he fixed cars to how he decided to plant the garden and what he needed to buy, how much fertilizer and what he had to mix it with to get the right consistency and mixture and how he mixed cement. All of those things are cultural capital, and as a student of mathematics, if I had had the opportunity to put my examples in front of the classroom, not just all I can do was look at what's in the book, but I have examples of my own. I have mathematical experiences of my own that also deserve to have space in the classroom, but if we don't take the time to figure out who students are, we lose out on the richness of what students can bring to the classroom and to the mathematics experience.
Kyle Pearce: It's so interesting because, a couple things, first off, I have this vision of you as a student in the classroom, and you're discussing how important student voice is and bringing that cultural capital to life. It's almost like you had the exact opposite experience, where you were in the classroom because you wanted to be anonymous and hopefully no one would notice you were there, with the bullying and with maybe not feeling comfortable with the material, or like you had said, maybe you were just shutdown because you were so distracted by what was going on in your peer group or life that you didn't have this opportunity.
To me, it's really interesting that coming and thinking about ... I know in math class, Jon and I advocate for this idea of context is so important. Context is what allows us and as students to relate to the mathematics, to actually understand the mathematics, but what I'm hearing from you is, we're taking that a step further, because a context that I share that only has meaning to me but doesn't have meaning to you or to Jon, that's not a very helpful context, so to me, that means a lot to me and, really, I'm wondering how do you help teachers who are listening to this, saying, "Wow, I need to listen to my students"? Do you have any thoughts on how do we go about doing that? How do we help bring that cultural capital to life so that we can get students sharing this and we can actually use it in our classrooms for good in order to essentially amplify those students and amplify their voices?
Thomasenia Adams: I think one of the most basic things to think about are the tasks that we select for the mathematics experience. A very easy way to get student voice is to flip the experience. Instead of asking the question and seeking an answer, give the students the answer and let the students ask the question. It's very simple. You could just say, "The answer is 12. What's the question?" If you have 30 students in your classroom, you could get 30 different questions, and out of those 30 questions, you can select the two or three questions that you will use for the foundation of the discussion.
That is a way to really listen to what are students asking, what are students interested in, what are their lenses of how they see the world? Like, what topic, even, are their questions? What are they putting out there for it to be a source of discourse in the classroom? We don't often do that. We pick the questions. We choose the questions out of the book, all of the odd ones, because the answers in the back of the book, so not only do we already know the questions, but we already know the answers, and there's no room for student voice in that, when we teach that way.
Jon Orr: For sure, and it reminds me of this context, thinking of open questions like that, but also, it goes to address, if you can do that well, you can eliminate this, like, why do we need to know math. Why does that even matter? How many teachers get that question every day? When I get that question, it means to me, it's basically shouting out, "What did I miss on that context," or where did I not provide this idea that it was, for some, what we're learning here today has usefulness in the big idea of what we're trying to learn? We always here the, why does this even matter, and many teachers actually think that when kids ask that question it's actually a bad thing, because it's like, they're thinking, "Oh, they just want out of class," but why do you think that's actually the good thing? Why do you think that's not such a bad idea after all?
Thomasenia Adams: First of all, if you get kids wanting to even know why does this matter, from an authentic point of view, why do we need to learn this, that's such a really important question, and it's also something that when we're teaching, we should make space for that conversation to happen because having mathematics literacy, just like having print literacy, but having mathematics literacy is so empowering. It helps you make decisions about life from the basic thing of estimating, when you're shopping, or wake up in the morning and close your eyes and then try to put the toothpaste on your toothbrush, and just see what happens. If you don't pay attention to what you're estimating from simple actions like that, you can have mess ups.
From every day kinds of things, to the most important kinds of things, when we look at the virus now and how many people are dying and in what communities and the rate at which people are getting sick and wanting to make sure that we have the data that we need to be able to talk about this in meaningful ways and to help people, so that's important. We need to have those discussions as to, why do I need to learn this, but it won't happen, I think, deeply, if we don't have discussions around things that matter to students.
You know what, I'm not teaching at this very moment, but if I were teaching now and if I was teaching, say, either place value or fractions, you know where I would go to for a source to hook students? I would go to where they are, which would be YouTube, Instagram, Tik Tok, all of those places that keep up with things like how many views someone has, how many comments are written for them, because those are things that kids are paying attention to. Who's the most viewed person on Tik Tok or on Instagram, and let's look at those numbers. Let's look at the millions. What does it mean to say someone has 34 million followers. How many people are we talking about here?
Using contexts that are meaningful in the lives of students. Take Steph Curry who plays basketball. Where does he make his three point shots on the floor? What's the geometry behind that? What are the stats behind that? Where's he most likely to make the most three point shots? How far is he from the goal when he's making these three point shots? We could take it to sports and there's so many places where there's opportunity to talk about, when am I ever going to use this? Why is it important? There are no shortages of contexts for that.
Kyle Pearce: I think you've hit it right on the head with the context and with making students feel like you're not going through the motions. You kind of referenced this idea of, like, "Hey, we're going to do the odd questions in the text ..." It feels like, we're here, we just have to go through this motion, but even just hearing you talk about these contexts, something else that I think is easy for us as educators to miss is just, I can hear the passion in your voice when you're describing those contexts.
I think kids can see that, they can read that, and they know whether we're fully in and we're excited and we want to be doing the math, too, but it's easy for us as educators to look at our students and say, "It's such a drag. They don't want to be there. They're not interested in the math," but if we're setting that precedent ourself, meaning, we're coming to school and we're turning the page and that's all we're doing, that is contagious and I'm hearing about all this context and how it can be relevant to our students' lives, and that's something that's really important to us in the Making Math Moments that Matter podcast.
We use a three part framework to get kids curious, and we're really excited to do that, but one of the struggles that I know Jon and I both struggled with early on, when we were trying to amplify those student voices as much as we could, was a bit of a fear. As a teacher, and Jon already mentioned, I was very similar to Jon, very, we'll call it, traditional, and traditional in our sense was math class was kind of a quiet place and orderly.
Everyone was in rows, we copied a note and we did examples and that was our experience in most cases, and for a lot of teachers, they sort of have this fear of losing control or not knowing how to get those student voices started with this fear in the back of their mind of noise in the class. What first steps or ideas might you recommend for maybe an educator who's like, "Yes, I know I need to do this. I know I need to get student voice in my classroom and I'm just not sure where to start"? What sort of tips or suggestions might you have for someone who's just trying to open the door to this idea?
Thomasenia Adams: There are a couple of ideas that we can do. Let me ask you this. Tell me something that you do with your bank.
Jon Orr: Pay bills.
Thomasenia Adams: Okay, pay bills. Name me two more.
Kyle Pearce: I check my balance and I feel sad.
Thomasenia Adams: All right. Check your balance, so, bill pay, check balance.
Jon Orr: Save my money. Put your paychecks in there. Save your money.
Thomasenia Adams: Save your money. Okay, and if I were in a room full of teachers, I would ask lots of teachers to respond and they may say things like, "I write checks. I use my ATM card." Some people still go to the bank. They like to go to the drive through or they go in, talk to the teller. They take out loans, get their credit checked, open accounts, open a savings account, open a Christmas savings account, all of those things. In the business world, those things are called touchpoints, and the idea is to have as many meaningful touchpoints as possible, because you don't need touchpoints that are not effective, to use those touchpoints so that, in the business world, they want to end up with satisfied customers.
They also want to end up with customers with longevity, and they want customers who will tell other customers, "Hey, come to my bank," so, free advertisement. I think we need to think about schooling in the same way. What are the touchpoints? What are the meaningful touchpoints where we can have satisfied learners, where we can have learners that want to stay in the game, and we can have learners that are motivating to other learners? If you get that down even to the math class, what can we do in math class that are touchpoints? There are a lot of things. It's the tasks that we choose, it's the norms that we have. I work with a team of colleagues, primarily Julie Dickson, Ed Nolan, and we have lots of other colleagues that work with us, but the three of us together do a lot of our primary work as a team. One of the things that we talk about are norms, like establishing the norms early on in a classroom.
A touchpoint could be that in this classroom, this is how we do mathematics. We know that being able to justify and explain our answers is important. We know that being able to say, "I don't understand something," is valuable. That's a touchpoint. What do we do with student errors? It can't be that when a student gets something wrong it's just an X across it and a zero put on the paper. There has to be more value given to student errors. That's a touchpoint. How do you deal with students when they don't understand something? That's a touchpoint. How do you engage students with hands on activities or virtual manipulatives or the kinds of things that will allow them to be physically active in the mathematics classroom? That's a touchpoint.
We have to consider, what are the ways that we can engage students through these touchpoints that are going to be meaningful for students? That is how we can keep students in the game. Whenever I teach a subject like geometry, this is my favorite subject by the way even though it was the class I had the meltdown in. So funny, but I say to teachers, "Give me an envelope. Just a regular letter size envelope, and I can teach almost the entire plane geometry curriculum, just with this envelope," and then I proceed to show them how that's done.
They see that it becomes a discourse between the teacher and the student. It's hands on. It's the envelope, and your writing tool and a ruler. Eventually, we bring in a pair of scissors, but it's engaging and it's also magical because when we start out the process, they don't believe that I can do what I just said I can do.
Kyle Pearce: Now they're, like, daring you.
Thomasenia Adams: That's right.
Kyle Pearce: Like, "Prove it."
Thomasenia Adams: That is exactly right. Prove it, uh-huh (affirmative).
Kyle Pearce: I love the idea of the touchpoints. When you think about that, and for me that's a big takeaway, one of many from this conversation, but when you think about that and you break down all of the opportunities that we have in a math class, and I think, too, also, something that is probably important, especially for educators who, we were saying, if we're talking about this educator who wants to take this first step is thinking about all those touchpoints but then maybe only focusing on a couple to start.
Thomasenia Adams: Yes, mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kyle Pearce: Which ones am I going to focus on, and one that popped into my mind as you were speaking was even just that welcome at the door, that opportunity to build trust, to learn a little bit about every student and to build that relationship at the door, but then, all right, once you get that down, what's the next one? What's the next touchpoint that I'm going to try to work on. To me, it just seems like if you tackle it one touchpoint at a time, the next thing you know, you can look back and go, "Wow. We're doing this throughout my entire program," and that to me is a really big takeaway. I really, really appreciate that. We're looking at the time. We don't want to take up too much more of your time tonight. The math moment maker community obviously thanks you for spending that time with us, but before we do wrap things up, where can we learn more about your work?
Thomasenia Adams: Well, I am very active with the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics which is the largest professional organization in the US for teachers of mathematics. Currently, I am one of the associate editors for NCTM's newest journal, Mathematics Teacher: Learning and Teaching Mathematics PK–12. It takes the place of the previous three practitioner journals, so this is a PK-12 opportunity for teachers of mathematics to share their voice with the mathematics education community. I'm always recruiting authors, and anyone who's listening, please look up MTLT with NCTM. We certainly appreciate any submissions that we receive for the journal.
I also present at NCTM as many times as I am accepted for presentation, so currently I am accepted for NCTM 2021 which was going to be in St. Louis in April but has now been ... I guess, we'll find out exactly what's going to happen with that, but I'm also active with the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics, so in September, 2021, I will be at NCSM where I will deliver the Kay Gilliland Equity Award Lecture, so I'm excited about that and I plan to be at NCTM 2021 in Atlanta in September, as well, so NCTM, I'm always connected there.
I do have a set of books published by Solution Tree, Making Sense of Mathematics for Teaching, with my colleagues, Julie Dickson and Ed Nolan and others, and so that's a place to find out more about those books, but we facilitate a professional development program through DNA mathematics so look up dnamath.com and you'll find more about our books and we have some white papers there. It's all about our voice in mathematics education, so I'm always trying to do something good for mathematics education.
Jon Orr: Awesome, yeah, and it shows. Your work with NCTM is often. That's actually where I first saw you a couple years ago, NCTM, I was at one of your sessions on your book from Solution Tree, Making Sense of Math Teaching for Girls K-5.
Thomasenia Adams: Yes.
Jon Orr: Yeah, I was watching that session as it's been a priority for me to, having girls myself and of teaching girls, but super important topic, but we want to thank you for joining us here on the podcast, and really enjoyed this conversation, as I'm sure all the listeners right now also are nodding their head, saying they also enjoyed it, but thanks so much for joining us and we hope you have a lovely evening.
Thomasenia Adams: Wonderful. Thank you so much for having me.
Kyle Pearce: It was great to welcome Thomasenia onto the show. I hope that you had a bunch of awesome nuggets to take with you. One of the themes that I'm hearing is just this idea of building that psychological safety in the classroom, building that community, building that classroom culture. Really, it does revolve around this idea of students having voice in the classroom.
Jon Orr: For sure, for sure. I'm super, super glad we had this conversation with Thomasenia, and, hey, in order to ensure you don't miss out on new episodes as we produce them, and they come out each Monday morning, be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast platform.
Kyle Pearce: Also, if you're liking what you're hearing, please share the podcast with a colleague and help us reach an even wider audience by leaving us a review and a rating on Apple Podcasts and you can go ahead and tweet us @makemathmoments on Twitter, Instagram, and you can even find us on Facebook.
Jon Orr: Show notes and links to resources from this episode, plus full transcripts can be found at makemathmoments.com/episode130. Again, that's makemathmoments.com/episode130.
Kyle Pearce: We release a new episode every Monday morning, so keep an eye open for our next one. Well, math moment makers, until next time, I'm Kyle Pearce.
Jon Orr: I'm Jon Orr.
Kyle Pearce: High fives for us ...
Jon Orr: A high five for you.
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