Math Task Force - January 22, 2016

I love being able to visit classrooms in action!

We started the morning by splitting into groups which visited math classrooms in different elementary and secondary schools. We used a tool to document what we observed as well as questions we asked the students and the teacher. I visited a Kindergarten and a grade 8 class at John Campbell Public School. Yes, they do math in Kindergarten! Before we visited the classrooms, Principal Michael Huggard talked about the work JCPS is doing to address math including an overall math plan that includes teachers, students, and parents, as well as a breakfast and snack program which is well-used. This school has had success in raising both math and literacy scores and is therefore a good model to explore.

The students in Kindergarten were going to figure out an addition problem: “how many animal feet were in the room” as depicted in a drawing. The students and teacher were seated on the carpeted floor together and started by identifying how many feet each animal had – most had four, but the birds only had two. This required counting, of course, and understanding that the front feet are included but wings are not. Then, when they were ready to solve the problem, the students were allowed to pick groups according to different strategies which were guided by the teacher using hands-on manipulatives including ten-frames and tallying. These strategies not only supported the students in adding up a bigger number, I could see they also laid the foundation for multiplication. Patterns were identified and numbers were grouped. I think this was a good example of a "responsive" classroom which I talked about in another blog post. The students had choice and voice, they were comfortable and engaged, and the physical environment was conducive to learning. The students were also able to see that different strategies were successful. Later, the teacher said that if she notices that students always gravitate toward the same strategy she moves them around so they can experience others.

The grade 8 classroom was asked to imagine they had won $1,000,000. They were given freedom to choose what they wanted to do with the money, but they had to figure out how much tax they would have to pay as well as some other realistic monetary conditions that had to be met. They worked in groups at desks or on the floor – their choice - with paper, iPads, and calculators. It was interesting to see them dreaming up their purchases and talking to each other about how to figure out the tax, how much money they had left, etc., as well as taking turns researching costs and doing the calculating and recording. The classroom was filled with anchor charts posted on the walls which the students could refer to if necessary. The teacher floated around the room providing assistance as needed.

In a debrief afterward, the grade 8 students said they do their best when math is fun and when they feel confident and interested in the learning – that even if they get it wrong the first time, they try to learn from their mistakes. This is the growth mind set we have been working on. One student in grade 8 talked about how he has learned to try different strategies if he is struggling with his go-to strategy and that he has success doing this. This highlighted the importance of the Kindergarten teacher’s efforts to get the students to try different strategies rather than always choosing the same one. The same grade 8 student likened math to problem-solving and critical thinking (not in those exact words) which is what the Ontario curriculum discusses. It will be important to see what the feedback is from a greater number of students and teachers as well as parents. I know that my own daughter, who is in grade 10, and her friends all said they need both practice as well as group work and activities, but that simple practicing by themselves is boring – they would prefer an enriched activity that is engaging and keeps them focused.

We returned to the board office for the group meeting and began to narrow down our considerations which will form our recommendations. We can only take this so far right now because we do not have the feedback from all of our stakeholders. As of the meeting day, we already had hundreds of responses from each so I think we will have a good understanding from these important groups about what they actually need.

One thing we discussed at some length was Huron-Perth’s focus on the IEP to meet the needs of students in risk. They have had a significant increase in their math outcomes because this focus has helped them to differentiate math instruction for students with identified needs. We also discussed further that early identification and early learning are key. We know that earlier success predicts later success. We are discussing the role of our Parent & Family Literacy Centres and ensuring that numeracy is a priority as well. Here is some information on these centres which are free and available throughout the community. These centres seem primed to assist with early numeracy goals. We need to explore this further.

In February, the task force will come together again to start to understand the feedback and how it will help us develop out recommendations. April is fast approaching as we are well on our way to completing this awesome project!

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Jessica Sartori