Becoming Better Mathematicians

Julie Childerhose, Lower School Math Lead Teacher
An excerpt from the Fall 2016 Corridors Magazine.

As a math teacher for over 20 years, I have observed many shifts in mathematical teaching and learning. From time to time, concern has been expressed that “proper” math skills are not being taught, that current programs are simply too language-based, or that we need to go “back to basics.” I have made it my goal to better understand the way young students learn math and to incorporate this into teaching practices in the Lower School.

At HTS, we believe in teaching a balanced numeracy program that combines a solid foundation of basic skills with the application of higher-level problem solving. We also believe that keeping informed about current practices in teaching and learning math is essential. In order for us to deliver a top-notch mathematics program in our Lower School, we need to be current, well-trained and experienced.

We are fortunate to have teachers who deeply value mathematics, and we have been given an exciting opportunity for professional development. Mrs. Rose Salerno, an experienced math instructor and expert in understanding the way children learn mathematics, is the instructor of a York University course that will certify our Lower School teachers in Part I of the Primary/ Junior Math Additional Qualifications (AQ).

In Ontario, we focus on five strands in mathematics: numeration/ number sense, measurement, geometry, data management/ probability, and patterning/algebra. The AQ course focuses on numeration/number sense, which includes topics such as counting principles, developmental stages of mathematical learning, computational concepts, assessment strategies and exploring research about how students best learn mathematics. Using the format of the three-part lesson, teachers can effectively incorporate problem solving, manipulatives and technology into their teaching. Throughout the modules, teachers will use professional development time to collaborate, reflect and learn as professionals.

Learning mathematics should be a positive experience for students. Through AQ professional development for Lower School faculty, we are equipping teachers with the tools to construct a learning environment that supports each student. We believe that every child can be successful in math, and that what this success looks and feels like will not necessarily be the same for every child. Ultimately, our goal is to help our young learners become independent and confident mathematicians, and we believe we are well on our way to achieving this goal.

It has been exciting to observe the Lower School math teachers putting their learning into practice in their classes. I see and hear students from Kindergarten to Grade 6 using the correct math language, discussing why and how patterns exist, and solving challenging math questions that push their understanding far beyond curriculum expectations. Although direct instruction remains an important part of our math program, the elementary student’s math learning experience is quite different from what it used to be. In addition, our students are not only using hands-on and digital math materials, they are using them appropriately and with purpose, to further understand and build number sense. As math teachers, we are now assessing and evaluating our students’ learning before, during, and after math journeys. We no longer rely solely on numerical answers or a test to show student understanding. Our Lower School teachers are applying what research tells us are the best math practices, and, as a result, our students are becoming better mathematicians.