I wish I could go back in time and learn math again – but the way kids are being taught math now. The one-size-fits all approach of traditional (re: my 80’s grade school days) math was manageable in that once you’ve practiced endless pages of computation you learn the formula really well. I did well in math…until high school when it became less about rote skills and more about application. I was lost. I could fill in formulas but I really had no deep understanding about why I was doing so.
I also look back and think about differentiation. I can’t recall being asked to solve things in more than one way. Even worse, I can’t remember being taught more than one way to do a math computation. There lies the problem of my math learning. Memorize something until it is a well-oiled machine. Hope that the ‘test’ asks me to regurgitate.
How is math learning different now? My students are taught multiple strategies capturing a variety of learning styles. Sure – we do procedural addition. To be truthful the majority of students still choose this method over other approaches. However, students try out other approaches like visualizing problems on open number lines (for the visual learners) and verbalized mental strategies in math talks where the students teach each other. If the use of an iPad app or GAFE suite app to clarify their thinking is requested and it’s being used in a focussed way, go for it!
What do we learn from this? There are multiple ways to solve a problem. This is so KEY. Every day I ask my students “does Mr. D. really mind which strategy you choose to use when answering a problem?”. Students emphatically reply “no!”. What a shift over the years. I’m looking for understanding – not formulas. If a student chooses to solve a math problem with donut doodles, I really don’t care as long as they show their thinking and arrive at an answer that makes sense. Will I perhaps suggest a more efficient approach? Sure. However we can’t preach out of the box thinking and then turn around and limit their output choices (are you listening EQAO?).
I’m really enjoying the positive sharing space a math talk provides. No marks. No paper. Just strategy sharing. Students are motivated to share or defend a different strategy. Yahoo! I would have thrived in this environment or had the opportunity to say ‘I disagree because…’. It changes the culture of a math classroom. At the end of the day, operational sense comes to some learners easier than others. But at least all students are in a safe place where making math mistakes has become a platform to start from, not a judgement that shuts you down.
I’ll be digging into this concept of ‘growth mindset’ extensively over the next year as part of a Ministry-funded project I am leading with an inspired teacher in our Board. Lots to learn and lots of learning to pass along. I look forward to seeing how I can empower kids and amplify their voice in their math learning journey. Welcome 2017!