I have had several meetings with teachers in the last few weeks, initiated by teachers who are wondering about and wanting to discuss an overview for how they might consider the teaching and learning of mathematics in their classrooms this year. We are in a year of optional use of a redesigned curriculum here in BC and I am suggesting to teachers that they explore one aspect of the curriculum, as it applies to math. Unlike some other curricular areas, like science and social studies, there actually aren’t significant content changes in math.
So aspects of the redesigned curriculum you might consider as you are thinking about math this year…
- thinking about how a core competency like creative thinking or communication might be developed in mathematics
- considering ways to personalize learning for students – using open-ended tasks, questions & problems and providing choice of materials, contexts or ways to represent learning
- weaving the First Peoples Principles of Learning into your math teaching and learning – think about the role of story, place and self-identity
- what opportunities do your students have for mathematical inquiry?
In terms of content and curricular competencies, have a look at what is the same and what is different. There is new content around financial literacy from grades 1-9. Computational fluency is very foundational in the redesigned curriculum – what does this mean for your grade level? What routines or practices are you using in your classroom to ensure your students develop computational fluency? I highly recommend Number Talks by Sherry Parrish and High-Yield Routines for K-8 published by the NCTM.
Begin the year with some assessment – what do your students know, where are they on a continuum with respect to certain concepts, how do they feel about math, what are they worried or wondering about. Let this guide how you plan learning experiences for your students.
In thinking about mathematical topics or “units” over the year, I encourage teachers to begin with topics that build a mathematical community in the classroom and provide an opportunity for all students to feel successful in mathematics. I often begin with patterning or some data analysis/graphing. With patterning you can introduce how materials are used in the classroom and there are lots of opportunities for open-ended tasks. With graphing, the students can create and discuss different types of surveys and graphs (relevant to their grade level) as they get to know each other at the beginning of the year and when large graphs are created together, they can be posted in the classroom, nurturing your mathematical community. These topics are also more visual-spatial in nature and this is an area of strength for some students who may not always view themselves as strong math students. I try to balance these types of topics over the year so there is one of them in each reporting period. I often include geometry in the second term and measurement in the third term, but may adjust these if one connects better with a science or social studies topic we are studying.
For number concepts and operations, I look at what is new content for that grade level (ie. fractions is first introduced as content in grade 3) as well as what I would describe as core or essential content. These topics need to be experienced throughout the year. Teaching fractions for two or three weeks in grade 4 is just not enough – we need to introduce the concepts early in the year and keep looping back to them in different ways over the year. For both new and core content as well as other the other required number-related content, I make sure to build in lots of opportunities for practice, review re-learning, re-thinking and experiencing number work in lots of different ways to develop both fluency and flexibility in working with numbers.
We are so fortunate in BC that although we have a required (legally mandated) curriculum, it is not prescriptive. We do not have scripted lessons, required texts or high-stakes testing as many jurisdictions in the United States do. We have flexibility in how we enact the curriculum in our classrooms, which allows us to be responsive to our students. There is no “best” order or way to teach mathematics…this is where our role as a professional educator comes in. We make pedagogical decisions based on the goals and requirements of our curriculum, but most importantly, based on the needs of our students.