joy wonder and equity in the math learning environment

“If you’re like most people, each January goes something like this: You choose a problematic behavior that has plagued you for years and vow to reverse it. Thus begins the litany of imperfections to be perfected commonly known as “New Year’s Resolutions.” All of which are typically off your radar by February… The challenge is simple: lose the long list of changes you want to make this year and instead pick ONE WORD. This process provides clarity by taking all your big plans for life change and narrowing them down into a single focus. Just one word that … creates a vision for your future.” – from Mike Ashcraft, My One Word

In my New Year’s newsletter from 2016, I suggested that the word for the year be PURPOSE. Here it is another New Year, and I like this idea of finding our educational focus ONE WORD … what might your ONE WORD for 2018 be? I haven’t selected my word yet, but here are some that are in contention.


The quest for joy both personally to remember why we chose to be math educators remembering there is joy in the calling of our profession, but also spreading the joy and love of mathematics to students and colleagues. We can do this by looking for an opportunity to host an event to inspire others to seek patterns, to be creative problem solvers, or to simply play. 

playtable for math learning

Sara Van Der Werf set up a play table outside of her high school math classroom.

In her blog, Sara Van Der Werf describes the results of a play table as magical!

Teachers can find materials to bring into the teaching environment that inspire JOY – puzzles, games, weekly exploratory manipulatives. As in Van Der Werf’s room, these can be left out on a table with simply the word enJOY! In the book Exploring Mathematics Through Play in the Early Childhood Classroom by Amy Noelle Parks, we learn more about the value of play and how children innately are drawn to mathematical play.

The math classrooms of 2018 could certainly benefit from a focus on JOY.


This is a powerhouse of a word. Choosing the word equity means a constant quest to level the playing field; making sure all those we interact with have an equal chance for success. In the $100 race video, a college teacher, Woke Folks, demonstrates powerfully how some are given a head start and therefore have a shorter path to success.

Consider which factors are in your control as an educator to make math education equitable. Explore whether gender or racial bias exist within expectations in your school. Ensure that students with special needs receive support and accommodation without a lowering of expectations. (See My Students can’t do that from October). Be wary of placing leveling labels on students which hinder the equitable status in classrooms (see A World Without Labels from November). Journal all proactive steps taken towards providing an equitable learning environment.

Become a champion for equity by empowering others, sharing what you are doing.
EQUITY is a worthy contender for my ONE WORD.


What an inspiring word! One can’t help but feel childlike again with this focus. Thinking of wonder conjures up images of Disney World and the look of awe on children’s faces. How can we bring WONDER into the math classroom? Routines that encourage students to notice and wonder such as in this video clip from a grade 3 classroom are impactful. Other opening routines like same but different and which one doesn’t belong can become a regular part of instruction.

In a world with a focus on wonder, we invite students to pose their own questions and seek solutions with monthly projects and a forum for sharing results of explorations. Educators purposefully and intentionally plan for wonder making learning math wonderful – Literally FULL OF WONDER  by exploring patterns, number theory, magic, and geometry. Let the students wonderings drive the instruction by posing questions such as – what do you believe about this? Will this always work? How can you find out? Is there anything else you’d like to know?

I WONDER where this word could take us in 2018?

JOY – EQUITY – WONDER these are just three of the roughly 1 million words in the English language to consider to frame 2018. This is an open invitation to sharpen your focus and zoom in your lens on ONE WORD of your choice.

What will your word be?

Happy New Year everyone!

Share your One Word with me on twitter @looneymath

Resources from January Math Musings:

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