A Love Letter to Great Math Teachers

My new book just came out. It’s called Motivated: Designing Math Classrooms Where Students Want to Join In. The book addresses the question: what can teachers do to design motivating environments for their students’ mathematical learning?

This is not the usual way that motivation is discussed. Typically, motivation is seen as characteristic of students themselves, with some kids being “more motivated” and others being less so. Drawing on social psychology, I turn this logic around by looking at motivation as a design issue. In other words, instead of seeing kids as more or less motivated, I offer a framework for teachers to design classrooms that are more motivating.

I knew I wanted to share the practice of math teachers I admire. I have had the great fortune to work with and learn from a number of amazing teachers over the years, usually in the context of research. Because of confidentiality agreements that are a part of those projects, I have had to mask teachers’ identities when I write about them, which sometimes makes me sad, because I want to give them due credit for their thoughtful work.

For this book, I crafted a process where I could ask amazing math teachers to share their practice as a way of illustrating the motivational framework –– and publicly give them credit. It involved lots of vetting, checking with them to make sure I told their stories accurately. This represented a tremendous commitment on their part, for which I am extremely grateful. The upside, for readers, is that you can find people whose thinking “clicks” with you, follow them on social media, find them at conferences, and continue learning.

The book is, in the end, a love letter to great math teachers. I have always been moved by great teaching, the way that some people might be moved by great art. When I am in a classroom watching an engaging lesson unfold, it is a profound experience for me. To me, lessons are engaging when students’ humanity is not put underground but is a part of instruction. Students can be a delight, and when learning is connecting with them, it is a joy to watch.

I wanted to challenge myself to illustrate a variety of ways talented teachers design motivating classrooms. In the book, I feature six teachers who work in very different secondary math settings. They are: Peg Cagle, Rafranz Davis, Sadie Estrella, Chris Luzniak, Fawn Nguyen, and Elizabeth Statmore. Additional examples of motivating design draw on the work of Anna Blinstein, Tina Cardone, Andrew Gael, Heather Kohn, Justin Lanier, Dan Meyer, Paul Salomon, Megan Schmidt, Anne Schwartz, Sara van der Werf, and Anna Weltman.

I encourage you to follow all of them, check out their blogs, and continue the conversation! Keep the love of good math teaching alive. Our hashtag is #MotivatedMath!

Update: Canadians, you can order it here.