New Territory: Mathematical Landscapes
“Mathematics is not a careful march down a well-cleared highway, but a journey into a strange wilderness, where the explorers often get lost.” ~W.S. Anglin~
Across Ontario schools are taking a deeper look into the the research and practice on mathematics teaching and learning so our recent work at Park Avenue P.S. in this area doesn’t make us unique. Like all schools in our district, we are part of a learning network; a family of 4 or 5 schools that have agreed to engage in joint work to support and improve our classroom practice. Our network will support our school focus on mathematics teaching and learning from K to grade 8.
As a first step, we have spent some time looking at what our student’s strengths and needs are in this area; using both our own assessments as well as our provincial assessment results from grade 3 and 6 (we will continue this work on our next PA day on Oct. 22nd). In addition, we have also started to read, think and talk about the most current research into effective math teaching; most adults have deeply ingrained experiences that often cloud their perceptions of what math actually is, leading to some confusion at school and home.
Rather than a set of pre-determined rules to be memorized, mathematics is actually a way of structuring and representing our physical world~ like a language. Since the best way to learn any language is to be immersed in it and use it-rather than be forced to memorize it- we are working as a whole staff to design problems and tasks that will help our students do this.
It is also important to note that all learning requires one to struggle and learning math is no different. The struggle we wish for our students is not, however, in the memorization of the mathematical concepts but instead in the development of these concepts. As I used to remind my students when I taught math,; trust what you know and understand, not what you remember.
There are three key areas we will embed into the work we do in our school and network and we are happy to share them:
- Inclusion: all students require support and instruction that draws upon their learning styles, experiences and starting points to construct their understanding of the mathematical strategies, ideas and concepts being taught.
- Innovation: real world applications, models, contexts and tools; designed will form the basis of our learning tasks~and this will look much different that what most of us recall as ‘math instruction’.
- Inquiry: just as most of the math problems we encounter in daily life require us to pose our own questions and often work with others to solve them, our students will be challenged to pose questions, hypothesize and struggle a little to find and prove their answers.
I’m grateful to our colleagues from the Mathematics in the City project, based in New York City, for sharing their research and practices and supporting our learning journey into this new territory and, as always, invite your responses.