Sometime last year, I started thinking about why I love math so much. And when I kept on delving, deeper and deeper past all the adjectives (beauty, creativity, awe-inspiring, structure, …) to what really was beneath those adjectives, I came up with one fundamental, visceral answer. It is the spark of electricity you get when you think you start figuring something out, and the chase that happens, until things finally click into place, and you are so excited about your discovery that you want to share it with someone else. It’s that gaspable moment — that rush of endorphins — that feeling of sheer joy.
I’m guessing if you’re reading this blog, you’ve had that happen to you.
For me, this internal joy is everything. Why I love math, below all the flowery adjectives, is because of the emotional impact it has on me when things click.
It’s an internal thing. A private thing. But what if it didn’t have to be. 
I had this idea last year, and I’m terrified and thrilled about introducing it on Tuesday. This idea is designed to specifically make this joy visible and public.
Here it is…
A bell. I’m going to ask kids to ring the bell on their group tables when they have some sort of insight or discovery or revelation that simply causes them joy. I want their internal joy to become external. I want my kids to recognize that this joy is something they should be conscious of and recognize it when it happens. I want a class culture where moments of joy are acknowledged and celebrated.
When a bell rings, what happens? Nothing. Kids continue working. Near the end of class, I will ask kids “anyone who rang a bell, can you share a bit about that moment and insight that you had? and can you describe that feeling with one adjective?” Or maybe I’ll call on someone who rang a bell? I do know that I don’t want the bell to interrupt the flow of class and thinking. Will I have the bells out every day for that one class? I will probably have the bells out a lot after I first introduce them, to start building the classroom culture around them, but then I can see me probably make more conscious choices about when the bells will be out based on what we are doing in class.
Will this work? I don’t know. I’m going to roll it out in only one of my classes. Why? Today I had a killer class. The kids were persevering and having so many gaspable moments. It was ridiculous. I went into the math office after just to tell the other teacher of the class to get psyched for his next class (he hadn’t taught that lesson yet). But because this happened, it is a perfect time to have a conversation with my kids about the joy of mathematics. (I’ve had the bells since school started… I just hadn’t found the right time to introduce them.)
I can see a number of things happening.
- I can see kids being too “scared” to ring the bell. Because it is public. And they might feel like they’re insights or feelings aren’t “valid” or “good enough” (compared to their classmates). Not ringing the bell has no risks, so why do that?
- I can see kids being too “bell happy.”
- I can see this not going well in the first few days, and then me abandoning this idea.
- I can see this becoming a positive and normalized part of our classroom.
What do I suspect? Truth be told, I’m super excited about this, but I think #3 is the most likely outcome. It’s hard to be consistent with something that doesn’t get off to a solid start, because then keeping it up even though it isn’t working well feels fruitless, and finding ways to fix things and change course is way tough.
However I will say that I started using, with this class, the red/yellow/green solocup strategy for groups to self-assess where they are in terms of their own progress, and it’s been amazing. So that gives me hope for this idea working with these kids. Wish me luck!
 Okay, sometimes it isn’t private. I love when a group high fives when they figure something out. That happens when it is something hard-earned. Something they worked for. I also remember years ago a kid getting so worked up about understanding the sum of angles formula for sine that he literally fell in the floor. So sometimes the joy is visible. But I suspect that a lot of the joy that kids feel (when given the right kind of tasks, which put them at a place where they can have those hard-earned moments) often has a momentary and fleeting nature. I hope a ding! can give voice to those fleeting moments.