Thursday, February 28, 2008

Building Mathematical Thinkers

The majority of my decade long teaching journey has taken place in an intermediate math classroom. Sixth grade, fifth grade, third grade--all accountable years for state-wide standardized testing to measure my students’ progress and essentially my ability to teach mathematics. In fact, the measure of accountability for all teachers who have touched that child's learning before me.

A decade ago, our school followed a traditional math approach and truth be told our results weren't good. My students could solve a long division problem in their sleep, but didn't have number sense, weren't master problem solvers, and couldn't think critically. Thankfully a district math leader with a vision introduced us to Math Investigations. The transition wasn't an easy one, but it was the right one.

This year, the district added Math Counts to our curriculum to further develop our students’ skills, concepts, and problem solving. In tandem, these two curriculum resources, Math Investigations & Math Counts, offer teachers the vehicle to develop mathematicians.

Although, I am no longer a math teacher, I do get to observe and coach in classrooms across our school. Today, I had the privilege to observe the implementation of a Math Counts lesson in a Kindergarten classroom with a dedicated team of Kindergarten teachers. I could hardly believe the math knowledge that five and six year old children already knew. I saw the link at this foundational level that will ultimately lead to a student’s math knowledge and success in later grades.

The Math Counts lesson launched with students studying the calendar answering questions with ease as they placed today’s date in its place—February 27. They quickly transitioned into the Daily Depositor where they placed the number 117 on their number line signifying how many days they’ve been in school. A student went to the whiteboard to record the number 117 and the teacher placed another tally mark on the place value chart and added a paper clip to the Clip Collection. “How many clips do we have today?” “How many clips will we have tomorrow?” “How about Friday?” she questioned.

Next, came the Graph. Students identified a penny, Lincoln’s picture on the front, and the Lincoln Memorial on the back. Then, they delved into probability as they flipped the coin several times and added heads or tails on their bar graph. “What can you tell me about this graph?” the teacher asked. Students chimed in with an assortment of responses including Jeremiah who stated, “We have flipped the coin 19 times altogether.” Furthermore, students continued with Estimation and Measurement by looking at a tower of linked cubes answering questions including, “I had 10 cubes. I added 2 cubes. How many do I have now?” “What in the room is about 12 cubes long?” Students pointed out a water bottle, poster on the board, several size books.” The teacher continued to follow their suggestions and compared the objects to the cubes.

The lesson wrapped with a Domino Number Builder where students looked at a domino with three blue circles and two red circles. The teacher asked, “Can you tell me a story about 3 and 2 more.” Hands shot up and students shared word problems.

After the lesson, the team debriefed in the conference room. They also got to listen to a 1st grade teacher’s perspective on the similarities and differences between what she observed in the demo lesson and what she teaches in Math Counts on a daily basis. The Kindergarten group listened attentively. They even decided that they were going to observe a 2nd Grade Math Counts lesson during a Teacher Meeting to see what students will encounter as they move into later grades.

This whole process was reassuring for me. It allowed me a global view of where students begin their formal journey and where they end up when they are leaving elementary school. I feel at ease that with the tandem use of both curriculum tools we are preparing students for what awaits them in middle and high school, in fact, what awaits them in life. Our students are mathematical thinkers.

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