Monday, 14 November 2011

Our Math Journey Begins

As many of us think back on our own Math experiences, our hearts often start to race as we remember those long stressful hours of memorizing the steps to complete different questions.  Many of us sat and watched as the teacher taught us everything we needed to know and then we would spend the rest of the class trying to practise these new skills.  Math is so different now.  Just like in Science, we want the children to be the thinkers and problem solvers.  We want to get them excited and involved in creating  and sharing their own learning.   I believe it is all in the approach.  As a teacher, if I approach the problem excited and oozing with enthusiasm about the next new challenge, the children will naturally join in on my passion for learning.  
Much of our Math learning is done through problem solving.  At the beginning of the year, we focus on providing the children with opportunities to build on the strategies they can use when they come to a problem.   Our lessons follow the same basic format:

      1. Pose the Problem
·      Allow the children an opportunity to ask questions, seek clarifications, share possible strategies.

2. Exploration/Conferencing/Assessing
·      Children are given an opportunity to solve the problem independently, with a partner or in a small group.
·      Children are able to access whatever manipulatives they need to solve the problem (unifix blocks, egg cartons, rulers, 100’s charts, calculators, base ten blocks, ten frame cards).  All the manipulatives are kept in so the students can access what they need independently.
·      While the children are working, the teacher will circulate around the room and conference with the children.  This provides the teacher with the opportunity to listen and assess where the children are and then ask questions and provide meaningful feedback that will assist the children along their mathematical journey.  It is from these conferences that the teacher will get the information to guide future lessons.  In other words, this is the assessment for learning piece.  What is it that the students can already do?  What are the challenges?  What are the next activities/problems should follow that would meet the current needs of the class and assist them in reaching the big math ideas or curriculum goals.

3. Sharing
·      Children are given an opportunity to share their questions, challenges, strategies and successes.
·      By sharing their thinking with others, it allows children to reflect and understand what they have done as well as see other possible ways to solve a problem.  By seeing other methods, children come to see that there is no “right” way to solve a problem.
·      By listening and watching each other, children are learning new strategies that they can build on or use in the future.
·      This sharing time also provides the teacher with another opportunity to listen and assess the students for planning future lessons.

Now a chance to see some of our Math thinkers in action!

For the first problem, I began by reading the children the story, The Enormous Turnip.  After reading the story, I asked a few kids to come up and act out the different characters.  Once I knew they were very familiar with the story and events, I posed the first problem, "How many hands helped to pull out the turnip?".  I knew this would be easier problem for many of them so it would allow them to try and use different strategies to solved it.  I reminded the kids that they could use pictures, numbers and words to solve the problem.   

After giving them time to work on the problem on their own or with a partner, we shared different strategies they came up with.  I used to think I had to directly teach the strategies before we began problem solving, but I am always amazed and excited when they come up with the strategies on their own.   The learning is so meaningful and so much more memorable when they discover it for themselves.

Here are some of the strategies they came up with:

After solving the problem by making an equation, I then challenged this student to solve it in another way.  They counted by 2's (looking for a pattern) and then drew a picture. 

This student kind of combined a few strategies (finding a pattern and drawing a picture).

This student also challenged herself to solve the problem using different strategies. 

Although all the students were not able to solve the problem in numerous ways this first time, they did get to see others strategies during the sharing time.  Many only drew a picture but OOPS I didn't actually take any pictures of those samples!!!  I promise I will have better samples that show the full range of the students work in the class next time.  What can I say, I'm the rookie blogger in this partnership!

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