Archive for the ‘inclusion’ Category

September thinking together: What is math?

Posted on: September 19th, 2017 by jnovakowski No Comments

This year I am going to share a monthly focus as a way for educators in our district (and beyond, of course!) to think together, collaborate and share ideas around K-12 mathematics education. On the list are number sense, estimation, reasoning, spatial awareness…it is a list in progress so suggestions are welcome.

My intentions are to begin each month with a blog post highlighting the focus area in our BC mathematics curriculum and connecting it to the broader field of mathematics education. I plan to share links to websites and resources, share books that I have found helpful and provide examples of mathematical tasks from Richmond classrooms. During each month, I will also tweet out related links, ideas, blog posts and photographs from classrooms.

For September, I thought we’d start with What is math?

I am fortunate to have opportunities to sit around tables with educators from many contexts – elementary, secondary, post-secondary as well as working with parents and students. What I have found over many years of having the conversation around What is math? is that there is much diversity in definitions and responses. Some views are quite narrow and focus on number, computation and operations while other views are much broader in topic but also in what it means to be a mathematician.

Mathematicians such as Fields medallists Maryam Mirzakhani and Cédric Villani have said that mathematics is a creative, collaborative endeavour. Other mathematicians emphasize that mathematics is more about justification and proof than getting the “right answer”. One thing that pretty consistently comes up from those who engage in mathematics is that it takes time – sometimes a problem or proof takes days, weeks, years.

How do these ideas about mathematics resonate with you? with your mathematical story?

As a classroom teacher and when working with pre-service teachers at UBC, I began the year with an individual brainstorm or web around “What is math?” – and these responses were added to a collective chart or web. For the pre-service teachers I worked with, I also asked them to tell my a little a bit about their background and experience with mathematics. These short narratives and webs usually gave me quite a bit of insight and where we needed to begin as a class.

What assumptions, conceptions and understandings about mathematics do students carry with them into our classroom communities? What feelings and beliefs do they hold?

This week a grades 2 and 3 class visited The Studio at Grauer and we began by talking about what is math? I then invited them to explore the materials, images and books in the studio space and to investigate something that piqued their interest.

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As we gathered back together, the students added to our original list. Interestingly, there additions were much more focused on mathematical experiences, different from naming mathematical content.

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What do our classroom environments say about what mathematics is? Do the images, books and materials we offer inspire our students and nurture connections? Do all students see openings to engage in mathematics? 

 

Ideas to nudge students’ thinking about what mathematics is:

What is math?

Create a class chart or math graffiti wall that can be added to as the school year progresses. Students can add images, diagrams, words, phrases, etc. Students can also use materials to create representations of what math is. The following is “math sun” created by a kindergarten student at Grauer last year – when I asked her what made it a math sun, her reply was that it was “full of math”.

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Where do we see math? What math lives here?

Encourage students to think about math beyond the classroom and school. Where do they experience and see math outdoors? in the community? at home? Create an area in the classroom to add photographs and materials found in the local environment that might inspire mathematical thinking and connections.

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A grade 4&5 class I worked with in The Studio at Grauer shared some of the math they experienced over the summer and then the grade 2&3 class added to their list this week:

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Many elementary classrooms have “wonder windows” to encourage students to observe and wonder the local environment. This year, we have added a math window to The Studio.

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I facilitated a K-7 place-based mathematics project at Byng a few years ago and one of the tasks classes engaged in was math walks around the school and in the community. Sometimes a specific focus was selected such as What shapes can we see? but we mostly looked for math to world connections. One class created a photo book while others created math problem posters (sharing problems the students posed inspired by their photographs) or concept panels.

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For the last three summers I have participated in a Twitter challenge with mathy types from around the world. Each week a math concept is posted and the challenge it to take photographs of the world around us that connect to that concept. Concepts such as estimation, tessellation and scale were explored this year. You can find this year’s posts on Twitter by searching #mathphoto17 – and here is a photo book I created of my photos and tweets from this year’s challenge:

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I will be launching a district-based K-12 math photo challenge on Twitter soon – hashtag #mathphoto38 (the 38 for school district 38) with plans to document and share the photos over the school year. We will begin with photos that respond to the question: What is math?

Make mathematics visible in your classroom and school

I also try and make different ideas about what math is visible to students, to parents and to colleagues. The following panel was created with images of the representations created by Kindergarten students as they responded to the question, What is math?

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A middle school teacher created an interactive bulletin board based on the instructional routine Which One Doesn’t Belong? to engage the whole school population in mathematical reasoning and communication – important mathematical work and this idea builds mathematical community in a school.

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source: Twitter

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source: Twitter

And for high schools – I think this is inspiring and helps to expand students’ notions of what math is. High school math teacher, Sara VanDerWerf, from Minnesota, has created a play table space in her classroom to engage students in thinking and playing with mathematics in different ways. She shares photos on twitter HERE and shared a blog post about play tables in high school classrooms HERE. Is there a secondary math classroom in Richmond that would like to set up a play table? I’d be happy to help.

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Think about how mathematics is experienced across cultures, across the world and across time.

Mathematics is a human construct and is often narrowly define through a Western or European lens. There is much evidence that mathematics as it is typically defined, existed in Asia long before it was “discovered” by Europeans.  There is a long history of cultural practices across cultures from all over the world that we would now label as mathematics. Alan Bishop has done considerable research in this area and describes six mathematical practices or activities that exist in all known cultures – counting, locating, measuring, designing, playing and explaining. I have found students find it interesting to learn about different number systems or how measurement is often contextual to a culture and environment. Some examples of these cultural practices are included in the elaborations for the learning standards in our BC math curriculum.

Seeing and experiencing mathematics as a creative endeavour

For the past three years, Dr. Jo Boaler and her “youcubians” have launched a week of inspirational math to begin the school year. There are a variety of videos and open mathematical tasks available for grade bands from K-12. The focus is developing a mathematic mindset  with messages such as: we can all learn math and we learn from mistakes. Resources can be found HERE.

There are many videos available that show mathematics as creative and inspiring but a particularly interesting youtube channel is created by self-defined mathemusician Vi Hart, daughter of acclaimed mathematical sculptor George Hart. I think her videos are particularly great for students in grades 5-12. Her channel is HERE.

There are lots of ways to nurture the creative thinking core competency (BC curriculum) while engaged in mathematics.

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The three facets of the competency are: novelty and value, generating ideas and developing ideas. I see these facets enacted when children engage in number talks and consider different strategies for solving mental math questions, when children engage in a rich open task or problem or when they apply mathematics to create or design something.

 What is math?

How will you investigate this idea yourself and how will you investigate and extend your students’ thinking about this over this school year?

~Janice

 

References

A Mathematician’s Lament by Paul Lockhart (with new books Measurement and Arithmetic)

Mathematician Keith Devlin’s blog: Devlin’s Angle

Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had: Ideas and Strategies from Vibrant Classrooms by Tracy Zager

The Crest of the Peacock: Non-European Roots of Mathematics by George Gheverghese Joseph

Bishop’s six universal cultural activities

Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler

what does it mean to be a “low” math student?

Posted on: November 23rd, 2016 by jnovakowski 2 Comments

So typically on this blog I share stories of what is happening in Richmond classrooms and about professional learning experiences for Richmond educators. This post takes a different tone…one that I hope will provoke thinking and discussions about the intersection of language and students and math.

Here goes…

I am often engaged in conversations about mathematics teaching and learning where I hear from teachers, “I have so many low students,” and it makes me wonder what is meant by “low”. I am sure I have used the term myself in the past but I have been increasingly more aware of the impact of labels and language on not just the professional conversations we have but also on how this impacts our relationships with our students. I have begun to challenge teachers on their use of this term and stop them as they say it…”What exactly do you mean when you say ‘low’?” I don’t mean to put teachers on the spot or to to make them feel uncomfortable in our conversations but I think the language we use in conversations about students is really important and we need to be mindful about this.

My prickliness about how we talk about children was amplified when I had my own children, both of whom have their own personal strengths and stretches. I can’t imagine how I would feel, or how my sons would feel, if they were ever described as “low”. What impact does this language of  ”low” have on our students as learners and on ourselves in our role of teacher? How does this thinking affect our mindset about learning?

So what does it mean to be a “low” math student…

Does it mean that the student does not have an understanding of foundational concepts in mathematics? Did the student not have access to teaching at his or her just right level? Was the student absent from school or ill for extended periods of time? Was the student not assessed thoroughly to inform instruction? How can the student be supported to gain foundational concepts and confidence in mathematics? What structures are in place in your class and in your school to support core foundational understanding in mathematics?

Does it mean that the student has difficulty learning math because of memory, health, attention, behaviour or learning difficulties? When in class, does the student have difficulty paying attention, focusing, sitting? Does the student seem unable to retain information the way it is being provided? Does the student have behaviours that are affecting his or her learning and engagement? What practices, materials and structures are in place in your classroom or school that provide choices and adaptations in time/pacing, materials, place/learning environment, quantity of work output expected and depth of content knowledge?

Does it mean that the student has a different story than his or her classmates? Has the student had breakfast? slept? Is the student living in a safe home environment? Does the student have to care for siblings or parents? Does the student need to work to add to the family income? Does the student have regular absences? Why is that?  What might be affecting his or her image of self as a learner and as community member in your classroom? As teachers, are we acknowledging and checking our place of privilege and power and how this might be affecting our students? What is the student’s story and how might this be affecting his or her learning of mathematics? What supports does this student in your classroom and school need to be successful?

Does it mean that the student does not have access to resources to support learning and success at school? Does the student have the tools and resources (human and physical) he or she needs at home to support learning? Are assignments and studying accessible and equitable for all students regardless of their home or financial situations? What supports can the teacher and school provide so all students have equitable access to the resources needed to support their learning? Afterschool homework clubs or peer tutoring? Choices in assignment and homework formats?

Does it mean that the student’s written work, homework and quiz and test scores do not indicate achievement of learning standards? Is written work or practice not completed during class time? Are homework assignments not turned in or completed, or attempted? Does the student seem to understand the mathematics during performance tasks and class discussions but is not successful on quizzes and tests? What different opportunities are students provided to communicate their thinking and learning? (It does not have to be written down to “count”!)

In all of the above scenarios, it may seem that I suggest that it is the teachers’ and schools’ responsibility to ensure student success in mathematics. Well, it mostly is – that is our job. Of course we need to have students and parents as part of this story, but when they may not seem to be, we, as a system, need to think about how to bring them alongside instead of using fixed terms such as “low” as an excuse, and explanation or a dismissal of responsibility.

How can we re-frame how we talk about our students and how we talk about learning mathematics?  There is a strong movement in mathematics education coming from various voices including Dr. Jo Boaler of Stanford University. This movement is based on the belief and conviction that ALL children can learn mathematics. Dr. Boaler’s work around mathematical mindsets is shifting how educators, parents and students think about the learning of mathematics. More information can be found here.

I attended a Learning Forward dinner event at the end of April and one of the question prompts the secondary teachers from Surrey gave us to provoke discussion was:

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This issue of deficit language resonates with me and I think by re-framing the language we use will re-frame how we see ourselves as educators and how we see the students in our classrooms.

Inspired by Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert and the four fundamental questions of the NOII, I wonder how many of our students feel that their math teachers believe that they can learn? We know its important that teachers convey that they care for their students and that they believe they can be successful. How does our language need to be re-framed in our classrooms so our students believe this to be true?

Instead of describing our students as “low”, what different language could we use? Learning. Developing. Growing. Competent. Full of promise and potential. How does using strength-based language shift our conversations and interactions with our students and with each other as professionals?

My hope is that we can describe our students as curious and engaged mathematical thinkers and learners – what is the story that needs to unfold in our classrooms if this is our goal?

Math matters. Language matters.

~Janice

With thanks to Faye Brownlie, Shelley Moore, Jane MacMillan, Lisa Schwartz and Sarah Loat for their feedback and contributions to my thinking for this post.

inclusive practices in mathematics for grades 6-9

Posted on: October 30th, 2016 by jnovakowski

Building on interest from an ILC (Inclusive Learning Community) project Shelley Moore and I facilitated with grade 8 teachers at Boyd Secondary, we held an after school session in October looking at inclusive practices in mathematics for grades 6-9 teachers. These practices are particularly mindful of the personal, social, intellectual and physical needs of students in the middle school age range.

Shelley began the session by sharing Richmond’s history with inclusive education and sharing some frameworks she has developed for thinking about inclusion (bowling pins, Fisher-Price stacker toy, planning pyramid, etc). She refers to inclusions lenses – personal, social and intellectual as well as places – different classrooms and places in the school as well as out of the school.

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In using the planning pyramid, Shelley considers goals, tasks and questions for all students, some students and a few students, starting where ALL students can access the unit or lesson. And here’s Shelley doing the tree pose – using the analogy that everyone/all could start this yoga pose by using the wall for support!

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Shelley shared the two year project with the grade 8 teachers and students at Boyd, with the first year addressing the Shape and Space curriculum and the second year examining the linear equations part of the curriculum. One example of a planning framework for an initial lesson on geometry looks like this:

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We shared photographs and video from the Boyd ILC project to share how the project unfolded with the students. Blog posts about the project and be found HERE and HERE.

I shared some of the practices and structures that we considered during the ILC project at Boyd and that can be used as a guide for planning mathematics lessons and units with inclusion in mind.

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Some of the choices that students were provided were what types of materials they might use. For example, during our lesson together about the volume of prisms, some students built prisms with cubes, some students used centimetre graph paper to create nets for their prisms and other drew 3D drawings that represented the measurements they were working with. Another choice was the range within the concept being addressed – for example, in the geometry lessons, identification of basic 2D shapes (faces) was an access point for all while some students investigated a range of 3D prisms. In the study of linear equations, choices of equations to investigate and represent with balances and other materials were provided, increasing in complexity or number of operations. Students were also provided with choices in how they processed or representing their thinking, for example, iPad technology was available and students could use the camera to take video or photos and then use a choice of screencasting apps to provide evidence of their understanding of the concept. Non-permanent vertical surfaces (NPVS) aka whiteboards or windows provide another choice for students who may not want to sit and work at a desk or table or use paper and pencil. The research-based practice of using NPVS has been shown to increase engagement and mathematical discourse, particularly at the middle-school age range.

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I shared the idea of mathematical routines such as number talks as inclusive practices with starting points for all and a way to build an inclusive mathematical community in the classroom. These routines also focus on the nurturing and development of the curricular competencies which are the same for grades 6-9. One of the routines shared was WODB (Which One Doesn’t Belong?). This routine has become very popular in Richmond classrooms as it provides an opportunity for the clear connection between curricular competencies and content. Four items are presented and they all belong to a set/group of some sort – integers, polygons, etc but each item is unique is some way. The goal of the routine is for the students to analyze and use reasoning to justify or defend which one they think doesn’t belong in the set and why. WODBs for geometry, number, graphs, etc are available at WODB.CA  - a site curated by an Ontario secondary math teacher.

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Shelley has posted a pdf version of our slides from the session on her blog. They can be found HERE.

Because of interest, we will be facilitating a repeat of this session on December 6 from 3:30-5:00pm at IDC – register on our district’s event page with further follow-up sessions planned in the new year.

~Janice

Richmond’s first IGNITE event – #sd38ignite 2016

Posted on: May 10th, 2016 by jnovakowski

The Richmond School District hosted its first IGNITE event on Monday, May 9th at the Big River Brew Pub. The first IGNITE took place in Seattle in 2006 and is now a movement that is international in scope. An IGNITE talk is a five minute presentation consisting of 20 slides, auto-advancing after 15 seconds whether the speaker is ready or not. The IGNITE tagline is….”Enlighten us, but make it quick!”  More information about the IGNITE movement can be found here.

Having presented a few ignite talks and experiencing the inspiration and fun that goes along with these social events, I really wanted to be able to bring this professional learning format to our district and my colleagues Rosalind Poon and Lorraine Minosky were on board and we ran with it. Chris Loat created our logo for us…

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And both Chris and Lisa Schwartz agreed to be our technical support for the event.  We found a site and had a meeting at the Big River Brew Pub to see where attendees would sit and how the technology and food service would play out.

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We invited Richmond educators representative of primary, intermediate and secondary as well as a balance of teachers and administrators to share a story about something they are passionate about. We also invited two out of district colleagues to add to our Richmond stories.

Two weeks before the event, we hosted a rehearsal especially for educators who were new to the ignite format. It gave them a chance to meet other igniters and to practice their presentation in front of an audience. By seeing and discussing what we appreciate about others’ presentations, I think it also gave presenters some ideas for their own ignites. And its always great to have sushi…and pens.

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As we were setting up on May 9th, we were all so excited to see everything fall into place. The venue was great and it was a beautiful day so the patio was open, the technology was cooperating and the tables were set with programs and sweet treats from Sinfully the Best for our guests.The burger bar was a hit and the company was great. Unfortunately two of our igniters (Neil Stephenson and Sarah Garr) had to pull out due to personal reasons.

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Some of the guests…

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And then the talks began! I was live streaming the talks using the Periscope app and people that weren’t able to attend the event could still watch the talks live. Between each “set” there was a 15-minute break for guests to chat about the talks, etc.

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Twitter was alive with #sd38ignite…we were trending!

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It was such a positive, passionate event and such a great way to build community amongst colleagues. All our igniters shared their own personal narratives within their professional narratives and these stories are what connect us and make us better together.

We will be releasing the IGNITE talks on youtube soon…watch twitter for announcements!

A HUGE thank you to our igniters…you are what made the event the success it was!

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~Janice