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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Coleman

Drew McDonald: Building Students’ Identity as Mathematicians

Drew McDonald of Salmon Bay K-8 School always enjoyed math, though teaching wasn’t always a goal of his. In college, however, he was in a program where he worked with students in local schools for 10 hours a week and he started to change his mind.

In Drew’s first few years, like many teachers, he felt overwhelmed trying to figure everything out. “I realized that if I was going to stay in teaching, I had to learn to prioritize better,” Drew said. “I needed to figure out when taking care of myself was actually the most important thing to care for my students.” Eventually, he found a good balance between work and personal life, and it let him settle into the role with a sustainable routine. “The thing with teaching,” Drew said, “is that you can always do more. If you did everything you could do, you’d be working all day and night every day.”

At the center of Drew’s teaching philosophy is a growth mindset. He wants his students to adopt one when it comes to the development of their math skills and he adopts one when it comes to his own development as a teacher. “I’m rarely talking to my students about grades,” he said. “When I give students work back, it never has scores on it. It’s all focused around what they were successful at and giving them feedback to help them progress.” Drew wants to send a message that no matter the student’s level in math, they can achieve the level of greatness in math that they want with enough time and effort.

Drew’s classroom focuses on real-world problem-solving. While the problems will be somewhat unfamiliar, there is always enough familiarity for his students to start tackling the problem in front of them. “I also want students to understand the context behind the problem. If you give them a real-world problem without context, it’s tough for them to engage with the problem,” explained Drew. As opposed to jumping straight into the data, Drew focuses on engaging his students on why solving the problem could be important in the real world.

Ultimately, Drew wants all of his students to realize their math potential. “I’ve been doing a lot of work around trying to build students’ identity as mathematicians,” Drew said. To do this, he emphasizes the diversity in the history of mathematics to expose his students to a wide range of math intellects. If students can relate to the math minds they see in the classroom, hopefully, they’ll be more inclined to see themselves as possible mathematicians as well.

Photos courtesy of Drew McDonald

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