Sunday, October 30, 2016

Math Obsessed: The Debate Continues

I'm in charge of teaching math for my grade level. I LOVE teaching and learning about math. There are countless ways to teach the subject, and the challenge is how best to teach the subject to large numbers of students who come to us with varying learning dispositions, styles, interests, and experiences.

Teachers all over the country are discussing and debating how to teach math best. The new Common Core Standards provide a framework. Cognitive research is growing at a quick pace, and math leaders such as Saul Khan, Jo Boaler, Keith Devlin, and more are leading us forward.

Therefore, how do we best promote math teaching and learning in schools with all of this activity surrounding and impacting math instruction. What are you doing?

First, I believe the Common Core Standards provide a good framework to work with. I think the strict grade-level guidelines in this respect are problematic because students at a same grade level are not all at that learning point. I'd rather see a more fluid progression of skill where every student no matter how old they are progresses along a somewhat developmental path within each math content area. It could be that 10-year-old Johnny is at grade two standards with number sense, but grade six standards with geometry. This kind of sophisticated progression and evaluation could really energize and personalize math teaching and learning.

Yet standardized teaching often leads to leveling of math students, and this is not always positive. Math instruction and learning depends on personalization AND collaboration. I think math learning should be a mix of both personalization and collaboration. With collaboration we should look at Jo Boaler's work with "floor to ceiling" project base learning which brings learners of all "levels" together to share their strengths and grow their knowledge, concept, and skill. With personalization we should look at the building blocks of math learning and understanding. What has each child mastered, and where does each child need to learn and practice more.

In the meantime, how do we promote steady programs in this quickly changing landscape of math education.

I believe we need to do the following.
  1. Right now, follow the standards. Learn them and deeply embed those standards into meaningful pedagogy.
  2. Read and understand latest cognitive research and embed that research into the pedagogy you use to teach math.
  3. Work as supportive and collaborative teams to help each other navigate this ever changing and vigorous math teaching path of new tools, programs, pedagogy, and possibility. Work with "loose-tight" protocols that help everyone focus on similar questions with good research and share and still respect individual style and room for risk taking and innovation. 
  4. Work with family members and students to engage, empower, and educate students to develop strong math concept, skill, and knowledge. 
  5. Utilize new tools to promote math learning--try out more tools than less and leverage today's technology to engage learners and help each child reach success. 
Our team has had a vigorous conversation about math education in the past couple of months. I'm sure the debate will continue, and I hope it serves to help all of us teach and learn math more and better. Onward.