“Just try it on!”

Spanglish is one of those movies that grows on you. A coming to America story filled with themes that move us: a dedicated and resourceful woman, a dysfunctional but caring family, a highly successful artist, and of course love. It has many scenes that touch us deeply. One of those, highest on my list, is when Flor, who has just started as a housekeeper at the Clasky home, comes back to her own house after witnessing the mother embarrassing her daughter over her weight by buying her clothes a size too small. Flor, who had never learned English, asks, no she demands, that her daughter teach her how to say, “Just try it on!” They repeat it in synchrony over and over again. Flor arrives at the Clasky house before dawn to let out the new clothes, then she wakes Bernice up and holding up the clothes, she speaks English for the first time. “Just try it on!” “Just try it on!” she demands again and again until Bernice finally succumbs and the smile returns to her face.

I think of that poignant scene when I contemplate students and teachers in math classes today, for in conversations with teachers, parents, administrators, and yes students, I hear story after story about classrooms filled with kids who have given up on their ability to learn math, are just plain bored, or who see no reason to learn the math they are being taught. Teachers, who are themselves bored with a curriculum so heavily structured and predetermined it leaves no opportunity for creativity or even fun, try to pretend they are not. It is clear that teachers, students, parents, and administrators are dealing with a subject that no longer fits, a subject which has shrunken beyond recognition, a subject no longer relevant, no longer meaningful. Though, it claims to be conceptual, to enable students to learn to think and to solve problems, in reality it is mechanical in an age where machines have taken over most of those functions. It is too small for our digital age students and teachers who are wanting more, more relevance, more creativity, more fun, more learning. And it is too small for our classrooms where teachers want more discretion and more opportunities to engage.

In What if Math we have done more than just let out the old curriculum. We have started from scratch to build a digital age curriculum. Did we get it right? Do your students enjoy it more, learn more, feel better about their math ability? Are you having more fun? There is only one way to know, so I ask you, “What have you got to lose?”, and as Flor coaxed Bernice, “Just try it on!”, “Just try it on!”