Paul and Gayle are taking a year from their roles in Picton and Belleville and will be teaching at the Maple Leaf International School in Trinidad. We will use this blog to record some of our edventures!

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Adventures in Math Teaching (Part 1)

So, yes, you may have heard, I am teaching a math class! Specifically, I have 11 grade 10 applied students in period 3 everyday. After some shuffling of the timetable and cancelling of courses, I had my choice -- English or Math. Was there really a choice?

In the middle of January, the change was confirmed, so I straighten up my Growth Mindset hat and headed home with the MFM2P textbook. By some strange fluke, I had participated in an administrators workshop in the summer that was focused on leading math education. Still, I wasn't feeling confident that my three days of "training" prepared me well enough.

I know that I am pretty good at math. I also know that, aside from one grade 9 course early in my career, I have minimal experience as a math educator. As I started to review the text and search for other resources on the internet, I quickly learned that content was going to be easy. Teaching it was going to present challenges.

Of course, I started to find gaps in the textbook material and wanted to find a way to bump it up. More specifically, I wanted my students to have the opportunity to think more about math, rather than just follow a series of steps. During my preparations, I found reference to a TED Talk by Dan Meyer called "Math Class Needs A Makeover". I had seen this video and even used it during PD sessions. Now that I would be teaching math, it was much more meaningful. (I would recommend it to all teachers. It is worth the 11 minutes for sure.)

Armed with new inspiration, I began the journey to find ways to help my students think more about the math they are doing. This has been a journey with more wrong turns than right, but the students are really liking the approach, so together we are climbing this mountain.

Here's an example of the kind of thing we are doing: On the opening pages of the textbook there are a few review problems which are designed to get the students to think about the Problem Solving steps they've been taught. The problems were the typical type you always see in math textbooks -- Bob wants to build a fence. His yard is 39m by 21m. He wants to put a fence post every three meters. How many fence posts does he need? If you are reading this and you are not a math teacher, you probably just started to sweat a little. Problems stress kids out and what we do is teach them to find the numbers and plug them into a formula.

So, taking a page out of Dan Meyer's book, I re-wrote the problem: Bob wants to build a fence. What do you need to know in order to help him? Whoa! I could not keep up with the answers -- everything from the budget, type and purpose of the fence, size and shape of yard to the city bylaws about fences. I was amazed with the level of thinking. The students loved talking about it. We had more questions than answers. After a long discussion about real-life problems and math textbook problems, we developed some scenarios of problems we could solve. Or as they put it, "can we do the math now, sir!"

Now, we have a new routine where we identify what makes a problem a "math textbook" problem. And, more importantly, what are the associated real-life problems we would need to solve. Consider this "Tug of War" problem's opening line: "On one side are four teachers, each of equal strength. On the other side are five students, each of equal strength."
Me: "What makes this a "math textbook problem"?
Nicky: "There aren't 4 teachers of equal strength"
Me: "What are some of the real-life problems that are related to this?"
Chris: "Where do we get the rope?"

This is fun!  I am sure that you will hear more stories of my learning in Math class!

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