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Miss… Is That a Mariachi Band?!

November 23, 2021 | By Ally Lewis

The past 8 years of my life, I have been lucky enough to do two great things: travel abroad & teach kids. My experiences have taken me to the Dominican Republic, to 4th & 5th grade, across the country of Ecuador, to the founding year of a community charter, to jungles in Costa Rica, & middle school math classrooms. Now, in 2021, Blueprint has offered me an opportunity to merge these passions and ways of life into one, through service to students as a Remote Fellow.

Entonces, aquí estoy - here I am - living in Playa del Carmen, Mexico and working with learners in my home community of Denver, Colorado. What does this look like? ¿Cuáles son las diferencias? How is this changing instruction for kids, & my practice as an educator?

To start, math now feels like it can be seamlessly connected to real life. As 6th grade works on multiplication and division, we aren’t solving word problems about “boxes of oranges” ; we are converting the amount of pesos that Ms. Lewis has to US dollars, to help her budget for the week. Ratio review in 7th grade involves calculations on our favorite cultural staple / street food recipes, and 8th grade is realizing that translation in geometry is much like translation of language - sliding or moving from one point to the next, depending on your location. Across all grades, when curious kids ask about COVID vaccination, schools, jobs, and money in my current country, we are able to examine inequities and the ideas of access & power with mathematics in real-time. Making content “relevant” for learners in the past has never been so authentic. And who picks up on this authenticity better than los niños, verdad? The result - increased engagement and positive shifts in math attitudes.

¿Y, que más? This model has led to a huge impact on relationships. My attention to relationships with students, (which we know is the most important thing regardless of grade or subject), is very much heightened. I don’t have the ability to go on a home visit, eat lunch in a cafeteria with my kids, watch their sports games, or even see many of their faces. Now I have to work harder, with true intentionality, I have to introduce more creativity, ask tons of questions, and genuinely listen, to ensure that I know my children in the same ways that I used to in-person. This pushes me and at the same time, I believe, benefits my kids. They are getting every ounce of me that I can give.

Finally, teaching is different for me and for students because we get to be in two classrooms. We are in the extremely well-organized ACMS salón, (thanks Aja & Drue!) and right above Quinta Avenida, the heart of this Mexican town. Sometimes we hear announcements; sometimes we hear mariachi bands. “How is the weather today?” has a completely transformed meaning. And, maybe the coolest part - we aren’t learning only math. We are learning Spanish, English, geography, how to ask for help, meteorology, culture, history, empathy, technology, art & more.

As 2022 quickly approaches, I am not sure what country I will be teaching and learning from next. But, my students can help me decide, because they’re coming with me 🙂

Ally Lewis is an experienced math teacher and coach from Colorado. She is currently a remote math fellow tutoring students in Blueprint’s hybrid program in Adams County 14 School District, where students receive a double-dip of math instruction from in-person and remote fellows.