In two weeks my Grade 5 students here in Bermuda will host the 8th Annual What Matters Conference. This is a conference that my students started back in 2010 and it includes research projects by students on topics that matter to them. This year’s conference includes over 30 projects ranging from the Impact of Brexit on British Agriculture, to A Plant-Based Diet, to Jobs That Robots are Taking from People and How They’re Doing It. It is an incredible time and it has grown in popularity – over the years we’ve had the Minister of Education visit, a ton of community members, and even classes from other schools.
It is also a time that I have an opportunity to reflect upon student learning, and thus upon my year. This is a bit more true this year than most as I will leave Bermuda for Headwaters Academy at the conclusion of this school year. Over the next two weeks I will tell the three stories that stand out to me as ‘What Mattered’ to me during these eight years in Bermuda.
One of my great joys in teaching in Bermuda has been working in mathematics, as a lead teacher, a support teacher, and as the lead teacher in our extended math program. One September a few years ago I identified a student as obviously quite able in math and thus proceeded to start the process of enrolling him in our extended math program. His homeroom teacher warned me before I contacted the parents to invite him to our class – “read his file,” she said. What I found, upon review, was that this particular student had been held back a grade for a ‘math disability’, one that had been confirmed by a Boston clinic.
I decided, after another day of working in math class with this boy, to invite him to our extended math class anyways – regardless of the report. To make what could become a long story short let me jump to the conclusion. In June of that year that boy won the subject award in mathematics as the top math student out of 40. He became a leading member of the school’s robotics team and he continues to thrive, identifying math as his top subject.
What lessons did this teach me as a teacher? Three things:
1) Ability does not always reveal itself in test scores.
2) Treat a child as they are, and they will stay as they are. Treat them as though they are what they could be, and perhaps they will become that.
3) A child’s past achievement level need not have a bearing on their future achievements.