May 15, 2017
By: Wendy Andrew
Last summer, I was looking for a workshop to attend that would renew my sense of wonder and appreciation for math. As an intervention specialist for grades K-8, my current caseload the past 4 years has been strictly reading intervention and tutoring. I missed assisting with the younger students in math and wanted to learn new strategies that I could implement during my tutoring sessions.
I invited a co-worker of mine, a Kindergarten teacher from the same school I work to attend the 3 day Math Teacher’s Circle Immersion Workshop in June. This workshop boasted that teachers would be engaged in inquiry-based mathematics learning through investigations to deepen content knowledge and improve perceptions of mathematics. Over the course of these 3 days, I would learn so much more. This class gave participants the opportunity to not just focus on the skills and objectives for the day, but allow us the time to problem solve each task. It was so much fun working with other teachers to figure things out, listen to their approach and then put our thoughts into action to accomplish the goal.
After 3 days, we met many professionals from all over Ohio, with various grade levels and backgrounds. I found myself looking forward to each morning, excited about what new topic and skill we were going to learn. Having the class later in June, I thought was better. It gave the teachers a few weeks to decompress after a long school year and get excited about a workshop rather than dread it.
With each passing day, the most important lesson I learned was that students need time to really “think” about what they are going to learn and what they are actually learning. As teachers, we are so often pushed to get through the curriculum, stay on schedule, teach to the test and move on that we never really slow down long enough to let students enjoy the moment. During day one, I found myself feeling anxious about how much time we would spend on one activity. I know in the classroom, we always have to keep to the dreaded schedule. As the days went on, I began to relax and realize that the students as well as the teachers need to have time to think, explore and have fun with math concepts. I especially loved the part where we could collaborate as professionals and talk candidly and honestly about what we are working on in our rooms, our approaches and expectations. My co-worker and I had a lot of laughs and so did the other teachers we were working with.
After attending the 3 day Math Immersion Workshop over the summer, I decided to continue attending the Free Math Teacher’s Bi-monthly meetings. Similar to the summer workshop, these meetings occur bi-monthly and meet in the evenings to continue learning math strategies and skills while making connections. Every other month, new guest speakers and professors from area schools and universities join the circle to facilitate new games, techniques and approaches while encouraging us to develop and answer mathematical questions. The Crooked River Math Team does a wonderful job visiting each table during break-out sessions to check in with us and ask questions about what we are doing, how did we arrive at each concept and what could we do differently.
They are very good at thinking outside the box and encouraging all of us to get out of our comfort zone to address new concepts in other ways. Some of the concepts presented, I haven’t learned or worked on since high school so at times, it was a little challenging. Working at a table of teachers with varied grade level experience enabled all of us to work together without feeling intimidated or “dumb.” Several times, I thought to myself, this is how our students would be working together in the classroom during differentiated instruction. Having students in a group working together with varying ability levels affords all learners to be successful. We all learn from each other in different ways, completing each task at different amounts of time with sometimes different outcomes. When approaching a new activity, often times, student anxiety may run high. This small group work mentality enables all learners at any level to participate and work together to accomplish the same goal. The students can rely on each other as a team and work together without the stress of completing everything independently. After many years of teaching, I learned that the goal in math is not to just reach the outcome but discuss and learn through the process of completing the task. My students will enjoy math more if they are given more time to explore, collaborate and share their approaches and techniques with their peers as well as their teacher. The teacher will also gain valuable information about each student as they share their findings through self- expression, problem solving and reasoning.
Over these past 5 months, I have especially enjoyed the hands on activities like FARKLE, SET game and Zometools. As a visual learner myself, I especially enjoyed constructing, interacting and reproducing numbers, shapes and examples through the opportunity to collaborate, share and compare what others are doing. Working in small groups on a daily basis, I know my students would love this!
I look forward to sharing these games with my students in the future.