In my role as a Collaborative Lead Teacher (CLT), I take my work in education quite seriously. Lately, math has been in the news as some parents and certain stakeholders have raised concerns with the “new math” that is not “real math” in their opinion. My role this school year is split between teaching 0.5 FTE in a colony K-9 school as well as 0.5 FTE in my CLT role. I teach mathematics for all grades, K-9 and have for the last four years (inclusive). This has allowed me to work with the same students year after year, continuing to develop ideas and strategies to gain more depth with my students. I often hear other teachers tell stories that in June about how they often inform the next grade level teacher, “Good luck with these students next year! You’re going to need it!” I have the privilege of looking in the mirror every June to say to myself, “Good luck with these students next year!” Then I spend most of September telling my wife about what a lousy job last year’s math teacher must have done with these students. All joking aside, it is a unique teaching situation that I am in and I have been working through the “new math” with a keen interest to see how it develops the students’ learning over the years.
Every year, I try these “new” strategies with my grade 2 and 3 students. It takes time and effort to work with open number lines, personal strategies, and true mathematical understanding. I have also shown some traditional methods that parents seem to long for, and will admit that these strategies seem to work rather quickly. However, many of the older methods do not teach math. They teach procedures. I have students (who, remember, I get to know very well over several years) who I know don’t really understand how bigger numbers work, yet they can perform traditional algorithms with perfection. It is an interesting and frustrating process to ask a student what one hundred more than 326 would be, and they look at you like with confusion and stumble and fail to explain any of their thought process. Yet, ten years ago this student would have passed grade 3 with an incredibly high math grade on his or her report card.
My thoughts and ideas have recently been reinforced over the last few weeks through a conversation with an Alberta Education math representative, my work in a math 10-3 classroom (where students believe they are stupid in math but some are actually brilliant), and a session I attended at last week’s teachers convention. The session at convention had a story of a grade 6 student who spouted off “56!” when asked what 7x8 was, but did not have a clue how to explain what 7x8 actually meant. What good is it to teach rote facts that involve very little thinking (plus we all have a calculator on our smart phone) when the students cannot even comprehend the meaning behind their answer? This is shallow, useless information that will not actually help the students in the real world. I hope those of us who appreciate and understand the thinking and rationale behind this “new math” curriculum are able to carry on some of this work and develop stronger mathematicians for our future.
I really feel that it is with the “new math” that we get to really see what students do and do not understand in their math. If we continue to work through the process and find new ways to represent the math and strategies that work for each child, we can really develop a solid foundation for their mathematical future rather than pretend everything is ok and let the Jr. High teacher deal with it.
This blog and resources website has been developed through the work of various AISI coaches in PHRD. The lead collaborative teachers for the 2015/2016 school year, Cheryl Frose, Christine Quong and Tammy Tkachuk will continue to update this site. If you have resources you would like to share or would like to contribute to the blog, please contact us.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada License.