Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Math Education?

I've been teaching young children math for 27 years.  I've taken numerous math courses and utilized a large array of curriculum programs, lessons and projects.

The more I teach math, the more I believe in the following:
  • Most students need lots of practice and repetition to grasp fundamental math concepts.
  • There is a large array of successful ways to teach math including explicit instruction, games, projects, paper/pencil practice, online learn-at-your-own-rate programs and more.
  • Students require a strong foundation of basic math skills to grasp higher level math skills with ease and fluency.
  • Students need time to talk about, problem solve, question and explore math concepts.
  • A positive, "you-can-learn-math" environment in school and at home is essential to math success.
Programs that move quickly from concept to concept without regard for students' need for space on the page, time to create, think and explore, and time for repetition and practice confound me.  How can those quick-moving programs respond to the diverse group of children in the room? It almost seems like those programs target children who are more like robots, than the creative, problem solving young mathematicians that they are.

I prefer meaningful project-based mathematics programs that embed new and previously taught concepts into real-world, interdisciplinary exploration with plenty of time for explicit teaching, discussion and practice.  

The Common Core standards have narrowed the number of standards teachers are responsible for providing us with a window for meaningful math activities and mastery.  This is one step in the right direction. 

I also believe that math, particularly the number sense arena, moves in a mostly logical pattern from one-to-one correspondence, to simple counting, addition and subtraction to more complex number patterns and algorithms.  I worry when we push students up this "number sense ladder" too quickly without time to master concepts and understanding with depth?  How do we create math programs that take into account students' diversity of speed when it comes to mathematical concept and skill acquisition?  Are grade-level classrooms the best way to teach math, or would we better off teaching math with a number of small-group, targeted strands--some that respond to the logical development of number sense, and others that move in nonlinear ways inviting the application, development and exploration of concepts utilizing building, geometry, robotics and other hands-on/tech explorations.

We know that blended learning and teaching environments have the potential for creating a rich, nurturing and targeted math education.  What models of teaching and learning out there are excelling when it comes to the math education of young children?  Who has successfully moved from the factory model of math learning to a blended, responsive and successful model for math acquisition and skill? What practices lead your math teaching success, and how do you successfully diversity your program to meet the needs and speeds of all learners?

I'm beginning to explore my math teaching with greater depth and breadth, and I look forward to your responses as I journey this teaching path.