I’m in awe of my son’s 3rd grade team.

Last year, when he was in 3rd grade, he had two teachers, a counselor, a GT specialist, a principal, and three specials teachers that cared for him. Not in a passive way, like a “my door is always open” kind of way. But in an active, give-him-hugs, come-to-multiple-parent-teacher conferences, “let’s figure this out” kind of way. One kid, eight adults just pouring love onto him. And he’s a kid that needs outward expressions of love.

As he enters fourth grade, he’ll have a lot of the same adults in his life next year as he did this past year, thankfully. I’m confident in fifth grade he’ll get that same level of care as well. Consider this blog post a partial paen to elementary schools that get that it truly does take a village.

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A while back I critiqued myself for not writing about **Social and Emotional Safety** as I do **Tasks** and **Facilitation**. If I’ve evened out the ratios of those three elements, it’s only because I’ve written less on the blog in aggregate in the past year.

Nevertheless, I have been writing. And much of that has been about caring.

You see, we secondary teachers think we’re caring. I told kids they are welcome to hang out and talk after school. I left an open invitation for kids to come before school to get work done. I invited all students to participate. I said “good morning” at the beginning of the day. Shoot, I even greeted every kid with a handshake at the beginning of every class period. And, with a few students, I truly did have that special relationship such that I made an impact on their lives.

I showed *passive **caring*. I opened the door and beckoned kids to come through.

Elementary teachers – at least the ones my son has – they show *active caring*. They open the door, beckon kids to come through, and when they don’t they’ll leave their room, grab them by the arm and bring them in. They don’t just invite kids to participate, they *demand* it and make it a norm in their classroom. They don’t just say “good morning” at the beginning of the day, they hug my son, ask him how his dance class was, give him a specific word of encouragement, and then give him another hug.

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I worry about the level of care it’s realistically possible to show a kid as he or she progresses through middle and high school. While it Takes a Village, kids graduate into an assembly line. They get 50 minutes with a Social Studies teacher, then they move down the assembly line to obtain their Science Parts. How many days in a row can a kid go without being shown care? I’ve talked to students who feel “invisible.” I’ve shadowed students that don’t get called on for an entire day.

I write about this in my book that will eventually be written, if I’d ever stop using the damn passive voice (see: this sentence). I was talking with a 10th Grade teacher who suggested, “maybe you should just call that chapter ‘Give a Crap.'” I laughed. And she’s right! While I don’t think I can get away with that title for a section (let alone a chapter), that’s probably the biggest differentiator between effective classrooms and ineffective ones.

Becca may have put it best:

I know it’s incredibly challenging for secondary teachers, who have limited time and expansive content to get through and, like, hundreds of students. But I’ve seen secondary teachers do it. And it’s absolutely a beautiful scene to behold, if only because it’s relatively rare in the hustle-and-bustle of the secondary learning ecosystem. I encourage you to show *active* caring, rather than just *passive* caring this year. Because that third grader who needs a word of genuine encouragement, still might need one in 10th grade.

## Is bad context worse than no context?

In elementary classes we consider it a good thing to be able to move from the abstract to the concrete. We ask students to count and perform arithmetic on objects, even contrived ones. We ask students to group socks, slice pizzas, and describe snowballs. A critical person might suggest these are all examples of pseudo-context, and they’d be right! These are more-or-less contrived scenarios that don’t

reallyrequire the context to get at the math involved. Why do we provide such seemingly inessential context? I’m venturing a little far away from my area of expertise here, but I’d guess it’s because it helps kids understand the math concept to have a concrete model of that concept in their heads.My question is this: in secondary classrooms, is there inherent value in linking an abstract concept to an actualized context? Even if the context is contrived?

I mean, yeah that’s bad. Comically and tragically bad. It doesn’t do anything to enhance understanding. I’d say the context actually

hindersunderstanding.The thickness of an ice sculpture dragon’s wing?That’s about three bridges too far.But what about a slightly less convoluted, but also-contrived, example. Say:

This problem is still most certainly contrived: dimensions of tanks aren’t often given in terms of

x. I’m not even suggesting this problem will engender immediate, massive engagement, but it might help students create a mental model of what’s going on with a third degree polynomial. Or at least the context allows students to affix understanding of the x- and y-axes once they create the graph of the volume of this tank.We provide similarly pseudo-contextual in elementary classrooms in order to enhance understanding of arithmetic and geometry.

From Burns’ “About Teaching Mathematics”

Of course, we also compliment such problems with manipulatives, games, play, and discourse, which secondary math classrooms often lack. In the best elementary classrooms we don’t

justprovide students with that single task. We provide others, in addition to the pure abstract tasks such as puzzles or number talks.Perhaps the true sin of pseudo-context is that it can be the prevailing task model, rather than one tool in a teacher’s task toolbox. In secondary math classrooms pseudo-contextual problems are offered as

themotivation for the math, instead of exercises to create models and nothing more.(See also: Michael’s blog post on Context and Modeling)