To my fun, creative, interesting HA2 students,
We’ve learned a lot in HA2 this year. I hope that you know how to solve a polynomial equation, how to interpret and graph a variety of functions and how to use and understand statistics. As someone who loves math, I think these topics are fun in and of themselves. But for all of us, regardless of interests and future career choices, these targets were the vehicle for learning skills that will carry you far beyond the mathematics classroom.
This year you have grown as a problem solver. At the beginning of the year, when faced with a challenging problem, sometimes you gave up quickly, thinking that Ms. Fruin would eventually just tell you how to get the answer. Through repeated exposure to new types of problems you haven’t seen before, you strengthened your problem solving muscles. I noticed as the year went on, when I posed a challenging problem, you entered the problem more quickly and readily than you did in August and September. You were more willing to try something, even if you didn’t know if it would work. You spoke your thinking out loud with partners. You gave them feedback, and allowed their thoughts and ideas to propel your approach to a problem forward. As the year winds down, I am pleased to see that when you hit a roadblock, you don’t give up. You try to find another way to solve the problem. We talk about making sense of problems and persevering in problem solving. This skill doesn’t happen overnight, or even in the course of one school year. I hope that you continue to build your problem solving muscles. Sometimes I called on you, and you didn’t know the answer. It was uncomfortable because I didn’t call on other students to “rescue” you with the right answer. I knew you could figure it out. I knew that you had skills to guide you to a correct solution. Remember this: Your thinking is powerful. It’s more important and more powerful than the ability to get an answer right on the first try.
When you are 25, 35 or 85 you will be faced with big problems. They might be problems you’re trying to solve in your job in the fields of science, finance, communications, politics or a field that doesn’t even exist yet. You will also face personal problems in relationships, parenting, or health (yourself or loved ones). I want you to know that you are a problem solver. Your problems, whatever they may be, are not too big for you to tackle and overcome. You might face roadblocks and what feels like a dead end, but you have problem solving practice. You have persevered and solved problems before. You know how to look for and make use of structure. You know how to assess a situation, looking for patterns, and apply previous experience to help you in a new situation. You know how to use tools strategically. You will have resources available to you. You just have to look for and find the right resource for a particular problem. Your resources might be money, a skill or talent, friends and family, or even someone you once knew in high school. Use your resources to their fullest potential.
I know you didn’t always like presenting your expert group problems, but many of you have acknowledged the value of this practice. Presenting problems to the class helped you learn how construct viable arguments for your peers to learn and understand from. No matter what field you go into, it is important that you can speak your ideas clearly and concisely for others to understand. In math class, we attend to precision by using the vocabulary we are learning in our explanations of problems to the class. I hope you transfer this skill to other subjects and areas of your life. Your growth in the area of presenting your mathematical thinking to the class has been slow and steady. You might not recognize how far you’ve come, but I do. I remember at the beginning of the school year when you would describe your thought process by saying “You do the thing, to the thing, and then you cancel!” Now I hear you intentionally using current vocabulary and accurate ways to describe the operations you are performing. Whether you are talking to a small group, standing in front of an audience or talking to a boss, keep growing in these skills.
Finally, we had one more weekly practice in our class that might not seem that important to learning math, but I think it’s very important for life-long learning. On Mondays, we talked about our weekend. You might have talked with a partner, shared with the class, or competed to be the student who had the best weekend, but not matter the method, we took time to acknowledge our rest and play. A long time ago I noticed that students were living for the weekend. Everyday students (and adults) wished it were Friday, Saturday or Sunday. But the sad thing about wishing for the weekend is that when I asked students what they did over the weekend, I usually heard “it was boring,” “I slept,” or “I didn’t do anything.” Life is busy and it’s easy to get caught up in tasks and to-do lists. Then, when we have a second to pause, it’s easy to “do nothing” by playing video games, watching Netflix or scrolling through social media. These things aren’t bad things, but sometimes they take away from opportunities for us to engage in activities we love, with people we care about. I would challenge you, for your health and happiness, to intentionally do things on the weekends or days off, that you find enjoyable. You had 41 weekends this school year and 3,875 minutes per weekend. Were these minutes memorable? Make the most of your off time to live your fullest life!
We measure academic progress with grades. This is only a small snapshot of what you learned this year. Most of what you learned is not quantifiable with a letter or number. Take a minute to reflect on the invaluable progress you made through knowledge gained, and learning experiences in all of your classes. Then, choose to grow in character by continuing to grow in these areas. I can’t wait to see how you all use your talents and creative problem solving skills to make positive changes in the world.