My husband Phil and I have been involved in this great program called Cool Little Kids. It’s Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for young children (3-6) that are experience signs of anxious behaviour. It’s a parent program to learn strategies to help your children overcome anxieties. We’ve only attended 2 sessions so far we’ve already learned so much to help our daughter Keelyn.
Something that I’ve taken away both session is the question “what do you think will happen if you do x”. It’s a great way to start conversation with children and allow them to express how they feel.
I used this idea with my class this week during a math lesson. I gave them the open-ended task for perimeter “How many figures can you create with a perimeter of 16cm?” Many were up for the challenge and problem solved a bunch of creative solutions. A couple were frustrated and expressed “I can’t do it” and one didn’t even try. I asked those kids “what do you think will happen if you make a mistake”. You could see their thoughts turning and one student said “I’ll get a bad mark on my report card” and another said “I’ll look dumb” and another said “I’ll feel frustrated”. Finally a fourth student said “I think that if we keep making mistakes we will still learn about perimeter.” When I inquired what do you mean? He said, “well if you keep drawing figures and counting the perimeter you are learning how to figure it out”. I smiled for this answer was perfect and really profound for a 9 year old.
We brought the question back to the whole class as a discussion and talked about how taking a chance and trying out something even if it isn’t something we are comfortable with and even if we make a mistake has a ton of value and a ton of learning. I feel like my students really got it. In fact the next day we did a perimeter/minecraft art activity where the kids did block letters for their names or initials like text in minecraft (I was quickly corrected that it was pixels not blocks) and had to calculate the perimeter. My most reluctant student happily created his letters and even calculated the perimeter without the normal worry lines on his face. Maybe it was pairing the activity with the name “minecraft” that made him give it a shot – but I like to think it was the pep talk about making mistakes. I guess time will tell!
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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!
Today I’m not in the classroom. I’m at Louise Arbour SS for a math workshop with Dr. Marian Small #mathwithsmall. I’m super excited to transform my math practice with my students. Feeling a bit overwhelmed but I’m sure as we get on clarity will come about.