Thursday 27 August 2015

What sort of mathematicians are in our class community?

Pre-Assessment for the Year

This is one of my favourite ways to begin a new year of learning with a class. 

Without showing them the line spectrum, we wrote how we felt about maths and why. 

As a few had finished with their reflections, I introduced the line spectrum and explained that when they had finished, they are invited to share with us what they had written. Then, they placed their post it note along the line that best sums up their feeling about maths.

From this simple activity, I listened intently and instantly gained a deep sense of who each of my new students were as mathematicians. Hearing types of maths learning they dislike and why, reasons they love problem solving, or some sharing their belief in why we need to learn maths for our lives told me so much.

After everyone had shared, we made some general statements about what this graph tells us about who we are as a community of mathematicians:

" More of us have a negative feeling towards maths"

" It seems that the negative side outweighs the positive"

" A quarter of us have really positive feelings about maths"

" Having a 50-50 feeling was also quite popular"

Then I asked, why do we think we have these feelings about maths? Why do some of us have really positive feelings, some have negative and some in between?  

Diverse and really interesting ideas were discussed.

During lunch prior to this, I had chatted with a colleague who had already done this with her class.  She then asked her class to think about at what age they had first started talking, walking, lost first tooth etc.  She then led the discussion to guiding her students to understand that we all develop different things at different ages and this also applies to our maths understandings.

I thought this was a really great and powerful message to send to children and so I tried it out with my class and they responded really well to it.  I could see those amongst us who had shared their negative feelings start to think hard about what we were discussing and hoped this gave them a sense that if they perceived themselves as weak mathematicians then it isn't their fault. They just need a bit of time to get there, just like we all do with reading, learning to ride a bike etc.  The big message was 'It's alright!'

I shared my own maths history at school and how I was an alright maths learner in my teachers' minds, but I never felt a passion towards it.  I shared how in my final year of high school I elected not to take maths and how this backfired when I entered university as the state rule was a primary teacher training requisite was you had to have done maths in your final year.  Because I hadn't, I needed to do a one year maths bridging course at university.  But my maths lecturer was amazing!  She helped us understand the 'whys' of primary maths - not the 'hows'.  I explained how it changed my whole perception of maths. For example, suddenly I was understanding why the formula for the area of a triangle was 1/2 base x height.  I had always remembered the formula for exams, but never really got why that was the formula. That maths lecturer was the first teacher I had who made me feel any semblance of passion towards maths. 

I shared how this year I think our goal should be discovering more of the 'whys' of maths instead of the 'hows' because when we find out those in maths it can become a really exciting and interesting concept to explore. 

To close, I explained that we will keep our graph stored in a cupboard - almost like a time capsule - and at the end of the year we can revisit it and see if and why our feelings about maths have changed. 

Looking at this graph, as teachers, of course we would hope all our new students would be placing their post it notes on the positive side.  Is it wrong that I am quietly happy that I have so many on the negative?  I love the challenge of helping my students to veer towards the positive by the end of the year; it excites me to make that an important goal for my new learners and keep coming up with ways to allow that to happen for each of them. 

Personally, I think it is far greater to help my students learn to like, appreciate and find mathematical learning interesting than meeting set standard benchmarks.

Maths learning should have passion.  It took me until I was in university to get that passion & real interest.  My goal is to help my students to feel what I had felt that year. 

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