In Defense of My Math Program

I’m feeling very defensive right now.  About my profession and my practice especially when it comes to my program planning in the area of math.  I feel the need to shout out and stick up for myself and my colleagues.  There’s been a lot of buzz and talk on my Twitter and Facebook feeds about the 4 Million dollars the Ontario Government plans to spend on training teachers on math and I’ve read a few opinion pieces about why your kids are bad at math and what your kids aren’t learning at school and while I certainly cannot speak for every educator I can speak up and stand up for myself.

The students in my math class are learning basic foundation skills. Contrary to what you may have read or heard.   On the advice of my husband, Phil Young a grade 7 teacher, I front end loaded a lot of Number Sense skills in the Fall.  A big focus on counting, addition and subtraction and I didn’t move on until I was fairly confident a great number of my students were ready to move on.  This front end loading was a new way of teaching for me and I’ve seen amazing results.  I introduced multiplication today and one of my students shouted, “hey this is just like when we counted by 5’s in the fall!” and another said, “Ms. Lewis-Young I figured out if you can add you can multiply”.  My experience in the past was my Grade 3’s just didn’t “get it” when I introduced multiplication.  Never have I had so many heads nod yes when I asked “are you with me?”

Foundations, and basics are key in math.  But so is open ended, real world problem solving skills.  I expect my students to come up with strategies to solving problems and we always discuss and share our ideas so that they can be exposed and see other ways of approaching something very often my students come up with a strategy that I didn’t see.

I put a lot of effort into planning quality lessons for my students.  I rely on my Twitter professional learning network (go PLN!) and colleagues to bounce ideas, give me tips and suggestions.  On average I stay up until 11:00 each night planning  my lessons.  While it isn’t always math often times it is because historically math isn’t my strength so I want to make sure I’m doing a quality job.  How did you spend your Saturday evening? Maybe you went to a hockey game or had coffee with friends?  I planned out my unit on multiplication and division.  I take as many opportunities for professional learning in math as I can get my hands on.  Again through my PLN and Professional Development through my board.  I had a fantastic opportunity this fall which focused on the 3-part lesson and collaborative inquiry process.  We even had math instruction by Marian Small during this PD which was a highlight for me in my learning career.  You can peek at some of this instruction if you check out the #mathwithsmall hastag on twitter.

I am not unique.  Several of my colleagues are as dedicated as I am and put as much effort into their instruction as I do.  I feel like teachers are being blamed for low test scores and results instead of figuring out why.  While I welcome the 4million for new learning opportunities I think it’s the wrong approach.  Maybe we should take a look at really dense curriculum and pare it down to basics and what foundations kids really need to know.  Maybe we need to look at kids themselves and figure out why they aren’t retaining basics and what we need to do to help them.  Maybe we need to focus less on standardized testing (ask any grade 3, 6, or 9 teacher about the pressure of covering the curriculum by the time EQAO rolls around) and more on filling in the gaps students have in their learning.  Maybe Full Day Kindergarten (FDK) should have considerably less than 30 students in the classes so the excellent educators can focus on setting the foundations for success in math.  Maybe the Ministry of Education needs to turn to the people who are with the children Monday to Friday and ask us for suggestions instead of “retraining us”.

I don’t know the answer but I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing because I know I’m doing a great job.  The only difference is maybe I’m going to speak up and be a little bit more loud about it!

7 responses to “In Defense of My Math Program

  1. Who none, welcome to my world! I feel like I have been fighting this battle for the last eight yrs. I have been teaching PBL and inquiry since I started teaching and have always been assaulted with these questions. Though most parents after seeing there kids work and understanding have come aroind. You are so correct in what you are doing!

    Your right, facts are important. But it is more about understanding how numbers work then it is fact recall. When students understand how facts and numbers work then they learn to recall faster. Also when teaching through context, students learn facts. You can also play games, to help.

    Have you tried any of the FOsnot kits. She has a grt one for gr three multiplication. Anyways keep doing what you are doing.

  2. Jonathan you are definitely someone in my PLN that I seek out when I have questions or am looking for ideas so thank you for that! I am not familiar with Fosnot kits but just did a quick search and it looks great. Thanks for the suggestion.

  3. As a 12 yr veteran of the #MathWars, I loved your post!

    I think that you’ve noticed your students won’t necessarily make the conceptual leap from addition to multiplication, but when you engage deeply with the concepts, many will.

    Now, regarding the “back to basics” thing: what is basic about multiplying? That it’s a short form for repeated addition. Are they no prepared to learn their times tables? Of course, because they actually know what multiplying is.

    Also about what So said about how numbers fit together- I retweeted an amazing blog post by @benorlin. Reading it may definitely remind you of those little number “eurekas” your students are having!

    • Thank you for the RT you are right AMAZING blog post! I will have to check out this #MathWars you speak of. You are right my students are making the leap because they have a solid understanding of addition now and they pick up and see it interwoven in almost all of the other math we do.

  4. Your knowledge, skills, passion, expertise and commitment are such a benefit to your students – they are lucky to learn from & with you. The general public just doesn’t always seem to realize what goes into great teaching, and tends to focus on the negative. Teachers don’t work for accolades, but respect would be nice. You have my respect!

  5. You are SO right! There are so many teachers out there that are doing such a great job with teaching math and that put so much time and effort into creating lessons that really gear towards helping all students learn basic math concepts as well as problem solving skills. Unfortunately there is no recognition or support for them. I totally agree with your comments about EQAO (I think they should get rid of it and focus on more practical and realistic testing / evaluation strategies. As a kindergarten teacher I agree with your comment on class sizes in FDK. I presently teach a half day program with FDK arriving at our school next year. There are days where teaching is difficult with just my 20 AM students & 18 PM students. When you have students with so many different needs (academic or behaviour) plus students with special needs (without extra support in the classroom) you need the smaller numbers to really work with them. 30 students in a class (even with an extra adult in the room) makes this much more difficult. Hopefully the people who make the decisions of what happens in our schools will start to think about all of this.

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