thinking about math in September

Posted on: October 6th, 2014 by jnovakowski

Last week I was in two upper primary classes working with the teachers as they began to think about their math programs for the year.

In a grades 2&3 class at Grauer, the classroom teacher read the students Wemberley Worried by Kevin Henkes and she had the students write on a post-it note the one thing they were most worried about. Many of the worries were about friendships and such but five of the students expressed that their main concern was dealing with “hard math”. I was saddened that students as young as this had somehow internalized such negativity and anxiety about math. Why is math viewed as being “hard”? I wanted to have a discussion with the students. My sense from our short discussion was that others had warned them about math getting harder…that they should be ready for harder math, etc. Everything can be hard when you are learning something new…reading, riding a bike, learning to ski. Thinking hard and working hard at learning in part of the process. I am hoping to help turn some of the students’ attitudes about math around this fall and help them experience the joy of learning math.

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In both Andrew Livingston’s grade 3 class at Quilchena and Gillian Partridge’s grades 2&3 class at Grauer, I led whole class number talks. Many elementary schools in our district are working with the Number Talks resource. It is a great structure for students to communicate their mathematical thinking and for teachers to weave in needed modelling of mental math strategies as they respond to students and where they are in their thinking. In both classes, we began with 8+5, focusing on using doubles and making 10 and then moving to 48+5 and then 48+35, with the intention that students will use the strategies that they used with single digit numbers and see how they can be used with two-digit numbers. Embedded within the Number Talks structure is a layer of metacogntion – helping students become aware of what strategies they know. Students are asked not to raise their hands right away. They are asked to quietly hold up their fingers in front of them to show how many “ways” they can figure the question out. This of course, also gives everyone a chance to think for themselves without giving up once some students start waving their hands. We also practice communicating clearly with math language as we do “think, pair, share” ¬†for some of the questions so all of the students get opportunities to explain their thinking to someone else.

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In the grades 2&3 class at Grauer, I wanted the students to think more broadly about mathematics and asked them to use pictures, numbers and words to show what math is all about it. This goes back to our discussion about math being hard and when I asked for examples, the students mentioned multiplication and division. Math is of course, so much more than number operations and I wanted to acknowledge that with this class.

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In the grade 3 class at Quilchena, I asked the students to show as many different ways as they could to make 78 using pictures, numbers and words. A task like this gets at students’ general number sense as well as their fluency and flexibility in thinking about numbers. We saw lots of creativity emerge once the students got going. And then, they were very excited to do some math graffiti on the whiteboard to share some of their ideas!

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I am visiting both of these classes again this week, checking in to see where the students are and working on some specific mental mathematics strategies.

-Janice

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