I had the great opportunity to join parents in a very lively discussion about mathematics during Mr. Chapman's "Coffee with the Principal" forum earlier today. Parents came out representing grades from pre-k through sixth. Despite various backgrounds and opinions on math instruction, we could all agree that what we want for our students is for them to be successful in mathematics, so that they are successful in life.
One of the points discussed was that mathematics instruction looks very different from when you or I were in school. The majority of our experiences in mathematics were focused on getting the right answers. Very little thought or attention if any were given to "the how" or "the why" we arrived at a correct answer. The depth of understanding of the math concepts we learned was very shallow. Today, we see that our students are being asked to do more than just get the right answer; students are being asked to understand how and why math concepts work. Math is now approached as a science rather than a discrete set of skills. Students are expected to go deeper with their understanding and apply mathematical processes to real-life situations in meaningful ways.
You may be asking why has the instructional approach to mathematics changed. To put it simply, the old approach was not working for the majority.
The changes in the methods of instruction can be uneasy for parents who want to help their children but are unsure of how to provide support because these methods may be new to them. It is difficult to imagine how something that we as adults do not understand could possibly lead our children to that shared vision that I mentioned earlier of wanting our students to be successful in mathematics.
Below is a video that I shared with parents during our discussion. I highly encourage you to take a moment to watch Phil Daro speak about the rationale for this shift in instruction.
Another topic that came up was that parents want to know how to better understand this approach, so that they are better equipped to support their children at home. I recommended the book, Old Dogs, New Math: Homework Help for Puzzled Parents by Rob Eastaway. This is a great read that not only helps you better understand the rationale behind this evolution in mathematics but guides through instructional strategies that your child is being exposed to for each concept. The book even provides guided opportunities for parents to try out the strategies.
For those of you who not able to attend today's "Coffee with the Principal" forum, I hope that the resources that I have provided in this write-up will give you some insight as to why math instruction looks different than you may be accustomed to. If you have general questions or concerns regarding math instruction in our district please do not hesitate to contact me. Any specific questions about your child's progress and/or class assignment/lesson should be directed toward your child's teacher who would be best equipped to provide you with that information.
Welcome to the 2015-2016 school year! I hope that everyone enjoyed the summer months making fond memories with their families. I have enjoyed reading about many of our students' and staff's mathematical adventures in the postcards that I have received. I am in the process of compiling these on to a bulletin board display for all to enjoy. If your child would like to be included, it is not too late to submit yours to me.
I have also had a few students begin to proudly share their summer math work with me. Any student who shares with me their completed summer calendars and/or certificate print-out from the summer math challenge will receive a little something from me to recognize their dedication and effort toward reinforcing their math skills during the summer months.
Our Family Numeracy Night will be returning in October. An exact date and more information coming soon. I hope that your family will be able to join us for this fun-filled mathy event!
My last two memos have focused on the topic of fact fluency. Growing up many of us probably referred to this skill as arithmetic. Arithmetic is the computational part of mathematics that includes addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. So what exactly is mathematics?
Mathematics is the science that studies and explains numbers, quantities, measurements, shapes, patterns, and how all things are related. The Core Standards provide a framework for what all students should know and be able to do. These standards are broken into content standards and the standards for mathematical practice. Content standards are grade specific defining "what" students need to master. The Standards for Mathematical Practice are the eight habits of mind and action that determine "how" students engage in mathematical thinking in age-appropriate ways throughout all grade levels.
Although there are two different types of standards, they are intertwined during instruction and learning. Students are engaging in the practice standards as they work to master the content standards simultaneously. Students are able to develop a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts through this blending and are better equipped for taking on problem solving tasks. For more information on the CT Core Standards, Content Standards, or Standards for Mathematical Practice, click on the links within this week's column.
Last night at Academic Night, I had the privilege of presenting. I was able to provide information on one of our district initiatives, which is a review of our mathematics program. Region 6 is working closely with Sue Palma, an educational specialist from Education Connection. She has reviewed our curriculum as well as the resources we are using and has provided us with recommendations on the areas that we need to improve upon in our mathematics program.
Based on Mrs. Palma's feedback, we are working toward the following goals:
We are excited that this work has already begun. After revisions are made to our curriculum, we will analyze our resources and look to make adjustments as needed to support our needs.
Last week's memo explored how computational fluency is built upon three components, flexibility, efficiency, and accuracy. I also discussed how computational fluency is a process that goes through stages of developing understanding, using counting strategies, using mental strategies, and finally having automaticity with facts.
Teachers use a variety of modalities to help students become fluent with computation of facts. These include number talks, math games, Reflex and other computer based applications, as well as targeted flashcards. Number talks are classroom routines that allow for students to explore and use number relationships and structures of number to add, subtract, multiply, and divide. Students are able to further explore and practice these ideas and strategies through math games. The computer program, Reflex, as well as other computer based applications are used to reinforce these skills. (Reflex is designed for use with grades 2 and up.) Students may also have a targeted group of flashcards that they are working on. The flashcards may focus on a common strategy that can be used to solve or may be a collection of a group of facts that the child has yet to master. Teachers craft fluency instruction using tools such as these to meet each students needs. These tools may be used whole class or in small groups.
In order for teachers to determine the fluency needs of their students, they use a variety of assessments. Because fact fluency is more complex than just how quickly a student can compute the correct answer, teachers use many instruments to gain information on all components of fluency. Information on a student's skill with fluency is collected throughout the school year using strategy checklists, interviews, anecdotal notes from observations, end of year benchmark assessments, reports from Reflex, as well as application in daily work.
Left-A group of 2nd graders are playing the game, "Double It".
Middle-A 4th grade student prepares "flashcards" that reinforce the relationship of multiplication and division.
Right-Students are exploring connections between x2 and x4 facts during the activity, "How Many Legs?"