It’s been more than 32 years since Diann Miller first began teaching. But time has done nothing to dampen her enthusiasm for educating young people in math.
Her eyes brighten as she talks about the upcoming year at Callanan Middle School and the opportunity for a fresh start each fall.
“Every year, it’s like starting over,” says Miller, a seventh grade teacher who learns something new from her students daily. “Every day is so different.”
In fact, she says, she still sees students in her class coming up with new ways to solve problems.
The idea that there’s more than one way to reach an answer has caused a dramatic shift in the way math has been taught in the last 10 years or so, Miller says. When she began teaching, students would be shown one way to arrive to an answer. Now, kids can explore different methods to get to the same result.
“There’s always more than one way to do a problem, and it’s just kind of fun to see the kids getting there and finding which way works for them,” she says.
In the past, students sat in rows, listened to a teacher lecture and were assigned problems out of a textbook. Math students today work in groups, using more technological tools, such as graphing calculators and online programs, Miller says.
Textbooks are mainly used for reference. Homework may involve a couple of in-depth problems to determine whether students can apply the concepts they’re learning.
“I just like the idea that kids come in and talk and share,” says Miller, who feels working in small groups can help students feel more comfortable asking questions. “It’s just more natural.”
One thing that hasn’t changed, she says, is that parents will often say their child is not doing well in math because he or she didn’t do well in the subject, either.
“I just think, ‘Don’t say that,’ ” Miller says. Instead, parents should be trying to help their child just as hard in math as they would any other subject. And if they need more assistance, turn to a teacher, she says.
“When parents say, ‘I never did well in math,’ I think it gives kids an excuse for them to think it’s OK for them not to do well.”