Saturday, September 22, 2018

I AM NOT a Math Person

As an elementary school teacher, one of the content areas I am responsible for teaching is Mathematics. If you allow me a moment to speak in a negative way, I will tell you the following:

I am not a "Math" person. 
I didn't enjoy learning it when I was young and 
I am resistant and generally scared of it as an adult.  

From a positive perspective, I know that I can teach it and that there are lots of resources to assist me in teaching it. What I stated above is how I feel when my back is against the wall and/or when I am at a Math workshop/pd surrounded by people who seem to know what they are doing when it comes to numeracy and how to teach it. 

When I was interviewing for the teaching position that I am currently in, I was asked by the Principal what I thought I had to work on from a professional perspective. My answer? Mathematics. I told him that I am frightened of it. It gets done and I am constantly learning but that it has always been an area of weakness. I am thankful that he didn't hold it against me! He told me that our school is provided with support in the area of mathematics and that I would get to be a part of that. I was up for the challenge and that time and I am still up to the challenge now. 

Fast forward to this past week when I had a chance to meet with the Numeracy Coach attached to my school. Ms. Dosman will be working with my students and I. In an email to myself and the other teachers involved she provided us with the focus of our first sessions of collaborative inquiry: what impact would daily number sense routines, and rich number tasks have on student flexibility and tool strategy selection? The email also asked us to consider where our students' greatest needs are in relation to our inquiry focus and an example question was provided:

There are 18 animals in a pet store. Some are birds, and some are dogs. There are 50 legs in all. How many birds and how many dogs might there be? Show your thinking.

I decided to take the question and present it to my students.

Here is the email I sent Mrs. Dosman the morning after my students tried the problem:

Ok, so they didn't solve the problem completely. Some of the kids said they were going to work on it at home so we shall see what happens today. I am going to try something to see if it kickstarts them in a positive direction.It was nice to see some of the students step up and take a risk - many of the students didn't jump in. I had more success with the number string we did (dots). Hopefully when we start with the number string today they will feel more confident. We shall see!They needed prompting but I was careful not to provide too much as I didn't want to be the one doing all the work.They focused on the legs and then forgot that there had to be 18 animals. Will update you today if any more comes of it.

Here is what ended up happening when we addressed the problem again:

My message to Mrs. Dosman:

Ok, so I drew a picture for them. It was the pet store with 18 legless animals in it. We had a lot of fun and finally solved the problem. Some students wanted to eliminate animals from the store and some were saying that we would have birds and dogs with no legs!

I took some liberties the second time around with the question. They were able to solve the problem and I was able to gather important information about what my students were doing and not doing with this question. I ignored my lack of confidence with math and did my best to praise my students for taking risks and providing their thoughts and ideas. 

Shortly after the students worked on the animal/leg problem, Mrs. Dosman came into our class to do a pre task activity with the students. They were provided with three questions (progressing in difficulty from the first to the third question), a pencil and paper activity. They were allowed to use any strategy/tool (except calculators) to complete the questions but could not seek assistance from the teachers or their classmates. It was tough to not provide them with any ideas or direction but we had to see what they could do on their own. It was over an hour before the last student finished and we could gather the class to debrief. 

Mrs. Dosman working with one of the students.

By this point they had worked with me on the word problem twice and the pre task for an hour. I thought that they would not want to actively engage in something like this again any time soon but I was pleasantly surprised when one of the student asked a great question in class. It was pizza day and the student wanted to know how much it would cost to purchase an entire pizza! He had two slices but was wanting me. I (the non math person) felt an excited and asked the class if we could play around with his question. They said yes and wanted to get to the bottom of this!

Here is a photo of what ended up happening:

I told the students that I personally like to draw information from the problem. I then solicited their thoughts/ideas and we went from there. As you can see, we ended up talking about money, fractions, and skip counting. More students engaged in this problem than the last one and they seemed to be more at ease with the process. For me, this is such a gift. 

One of my goals for this school year is to look at mathematics as a new fluency. One that I can jump in and out of with a confidence around the ability to learn new things and be able to apply them in order to help my students with their learning and love of math. With Mrs. Dosman's coaching and my self directed PD, my hope is that 1) my students will become comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas in math; 2)  they will willingly enter into working through problems like the ones above; 3) that they will acquire a variety of tools/strategies and know when and how to use them; and 4) a flexibility in their thinking when dealing with math problems.