Math Task Force - February 26, 2016

The February 26 Math Task Force meeting was awesome! We started the morning by doing some math and discussing the importance of estimation.

Estimation is correlated with patterning and visualization. It is critical in building number sense. It is helpful to students when checking their work to determine if the answer makes sense. It is also related to critical thinking. In fact, estimation is so important there are entire websites dedicated to estimation problems. We tried some examples during the meeting. Here is the link. Go ahead and test your own estimation skills!  

We also discussed the myth that we do not teach students “facts” about math such as times tables; we do, but it is important that students have the opportunity to really think about and understand the math lesson. That is, understanding is preferred to regurgitation. For example, the teacher might ask students to test their understanding or knowledge about “what four times is” after providing a lesson, then allowing students to pick partners and use various manipulatives to make groupings. The teacher then walks around the room asking guiding questions and giving assistance as needed. Then, the class discusses their findings as a whole. This is just a basic example and not to say students would only have one lesson about multiplication.

One of the principals discussed how her thinking has changed because of the Math Task Force. She talked about how she used to drill her young son on his times tables in the car thinking this would help him remember them. He would always say, “You know I can never remember 4x6!!” She has come to the realization that “I get it” is better than “I remember” and has supported his learning at home in ways that helped him understand instead of regurgitate, such as using manipulatives. He now not only remembers the answer to 4x6, he knows why. He knows it’s 4 groups of 6, which is the same as 6 groups of 4, which is the same as 12 groups of 2, etc. He gets it.

This story made me think back to my own approach when my daughter was learning her times tables – learning multiplication. She was not a kid who could sit there and memorize so I needed another way. Without really thinking about the type of “teaching” I thought she needed, I tried using little candies or game pieces to help her group them. It worked. She could literally see the relationships between the numbers, between the groups.  And it was fun. Of course, there was memorizing happening, but it was more than memorizing – it was understanding.

Understanding is important in problem solving which everyone needs for math and in life in general. I found the principal’s story amusing because it made me think about the various technology equipment we have at home just to watch “a show” as we call it at our house. My husband has shown me multiple times how each piece of equipment hooks up so I can get power, the internet, choose the right input, etc. I can now identify an HDMI cable. However, I have no idea what that stands for or what it actually is which points to the problem I am trying to demonstrate: I don’t actually get it. So when something goes wrong, I can’t fix it. I can’t solve the problem. Maybe one of these days I’ll get it, but right now if something out of the ordinary happens, I will fall behind in my shows at the very real risk of spoilers! I can name every piece of equipment (almost), but I don’t really know what they do or how they relate.  

We then discussed the results of our outreach efforts. I have previously written about the surveys and interviews the board was doing regarding math learning. I was absolutely floored at the response from our board. Here are the preliminary numbers for survey responses: about 900 teachers, 89 principals and vice principals, close to 900 parents, and over 2000 students! Thank you, thank you for participating! I think these numbers indicate that the community sees math as important to student outcomes and appreciated the opportunity to provide input into the MTF recommendations.

This is a lot of data to analyze and synthesize into themes. So we did it together. We formed groups which analyzed the raw data from each of the participant groups. I was in the “Administrator” group which analyzed the feedback from principals and vice principals. One of the things that stood out is that they appreciated the opportunity to provide feedback and basically to have more time to talk about math. This is something they believe would be beneficial on ongoing basis. They indicated they have been able to have more meaningful discussions because of the Math Task Force and they hope this can continue.

The Math Task Force will meet one last time in March to finish our analysis of the feedback surveys and interviews and examine how the feedback relates to our draft recommendations. We are open to the possibility of new recommendations but so far we still believe our recommendations are on track – but they might mean different things to different groups. We are still continuing with the interviews with the various groups so we can obtain richer information about their survey responses. I will update you after the next meeting!


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Jessica Sartori