Math Task Force - December 11, 2015

The main activity of the December 11 meeting was to complete the subcommittee presentations that began in November so they could share and receive feedback from the whole group.

The Learning Environment Subcommittee summarized some of the main points of the literature they have researched. A key point is that the learning environment must be “responsive”. There are three inter-connected components: physical, social/emotional, and choice and voice. Physical factors in the classroom (e.g., welcoming, clean, comfortable) are a critical part of the puzzle that can facilitate student involvement in the learning process, helping to empower them, creating a sense of community, and motivating students to work hard and achieve. The social/emotional aspect stresses the importance of creating a positive learning environment in which students feel comfortable to take risks so they can learn from mistakes and try new strategies.

Choice and voice highlights that students learn in different ways and that different types of questions can be helpful in this regard. Ensuring that students have an opportunity to express their opinions and talk about their learning in small groups and as a class helps students understand the concepts, see that there are different methods of solving problems, and know that everyone makes mistakes. This also helps the teacher to understand where the students are at in their learning – where strengths and weaknesses are in individual students.

As a result of this discussion, the group suggested that the GECDSB Math Vision document may need to be updated to highlight these concepts. This led to a discussion about the intent of the Math Vision document and that GECDSB needs to ensure this is not one-way communication. Students, teachers, and parents, need to see themselves in the vision and they need to have input.   

This subcommittee also presented an observation method they will be employing to observe how math is taught and learned and to get a sense of the resources available in the classroom and how they are used. After observing they will also talk to the teacher and students. We will hear about their findings at a later date and all MTF members will be invited to observe classrooms. The group cautioned that a cookie-cutter classroom checklist is probably not desirable. While there may be some non-negotiables, every classroom is different and teachers are professionals who need to have the freedom and support to recognize what their students need. Another suggestion was made that once the MTF concludes, we could do follow-up observations and collect feedback to study progress, making sure it is working and hearing from teachers and students again. This then led to one possible recommendation going forward for a continuous feedback cycle so that stakeholders have regular opportunities to provide input.

The Reciprocal Local and Global Partnerships Subcommittee presented our draft methodology for obtaining feedback from key stakeholders: students, parents, teachers, post-secondary institutions, and industry. Methods will include questionnaires and focus groups. Students, parents, and teachers from a variety of elementary and secondary schools and grades will be invited to participate in the focus groups. The questionnaire will be open, likely published on the GECDSB website. One caution that was made is that we need to include city and county schools, with different performance levels as measured by the EQAO, with wide demographics including ESL and low income.

At the end of the meeting, we talked about preparations for the December 16 meeting when our critical advisors will visit and provide feedback about how we are doing so far. We reflected on the fact that we are ultimately talking about a culture change about math within our board that will require “all hands on deck”, but that we also want to impact the community as a whole. Several MTF members talked about how they are noticing the language about math in our society: math is hard, it is not for everyone, it is scary, it is not needed in most jobs, girls can’t do math. It is even joked about on TV. It is a cultural norm to not like math, to even fear math. This needs to change.

This raised some concerns within the group. Changing culture is a process; it does not happen over-night. And the board committed to raising math EQAO 10% by 2017. We need to make sure that we have recommendations that serve our students immediately. We only have these kids for so long then they go off to post-secondary and/or their working lives. We are here to serve and educate and ensure students are putting their best foot forward.

I asked about whether we are studying the effects of low income closely enough and whether we have garnered everything we can from the EQAO. Different components of math are assessed on the EQAO but we have been talking about the results as a whole. These questions were assigned to different subcommittees to be brought forward at a later meeting.

Finally, the point was made again that early learning predicts later learning. Gaps in learning become more challenging as the student progresses through school. Research suggests that the time even before children start school is crucial. The group committed to considering how GECDSB can support child education before Kindergarten.

Everyone is very excited to host our critical advisors next week and I will write more then. As always, please let me know if you have any questions or thoughts about the Math Task Force – or anything else!


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Jessica Sartori