December 5, 2012

Math From the Ground Up

Veteran teacher Diane Bramble teaching 2nd graders a new math game

Allow me to take you back a few years, to the time when you were in elementary school.  Perhaps third grade.  Math class.  My math teacher’s name was Mr. Taylor.  I remember the long hairs around his nostrils, but not much else.  I’m sure learning multiplication tables was a part of the experience.  Plenty of worksheets too.  And a lot of rules: carry the one, bring down the number, borrow from the next column.

Like many of my early school experiences, I look back with gratitude that that is over. These are not the experiences that we are giving the elementary math learners at Friends’.

Our elementary math specialist teacher, Erika Norman, received an email from the parent of a Kindergartner the other day:

I never thought I would say these words.....math is going great!  We are really enjoying playing math games at night - although (my son) has beaten me in War 6 times in a row!  He asks to play math games and has fun teaching his old mom Ten Frame.”

(Author’s note: I know this mom.  She’s not that old!)

She continues: “The reason I wanted to send this was because you popped into my head the other day.  My son was asking (let's be honest - he was nagging) about when our friend was coming (we carpool) and as usual I got impatient because he was challenging my answer.  BUT, then I stopped and remembered what you said about showing them how we, as parents, do math.  So, I took a breath and explained about telling time and that the big hand would be on the 9, etc.  It stopped him from nagging. I felt good about not being a horrible parent, and it gave him some tools to solve the problem in the future.  So, thank you!”

This is one of many stories we hear from parents all the time.  When we set aside the rules and choose to focus on the concepts and thinking behind math, we are more successful.

At Friends’, we teach children to be confident math thinkers. We begin by providing a variety of concrete, hands-on experiences to build real number sense that students can later apply to more abstract mathematics. Students work individually, as well as in cooperative groups, to discuss and reason mathematically while becoming flexible and creative in their approach to problem solving.
We present meaningful mathematical tasks, which engage and challenge children’s thinking, bringing about better math understanding. We give attention and respect to the range of ways that students learn. We use mathematical language to help students understand math at a deeper level, starting from concrete and working toward abstract thinking. And we connect to what our students already know and build upon that prior knowledge. All of these ways of teaching math support effective, longer-term learning. 

Kids need time to play at math. Research clearly tells us that students who play math games regularly perform better than their peers. During math play, wonderful dialogue can occur when children, teachers, and parents engage in conversations about numbers and math concepts.
As parents, it is important that we connect with our kids on math, including helping occasionally with homework.  My daughter is a high school sophomore and I can’t begin to tell you the joys of sitting down late at night to help with the sheer delights of trigonometry!  However, while we’re there to support, it’s important for us to remember to focus on the concepts and the thinking behind the math our kids are working on, and not just the rules.  And if you’re not sure of the bigger picture, I encourage you to connect with your child’s teacher.

Friends’ will host a math night for all of our parents and the Boulder community early in the New Year with Erika and preschool parent Amy Scheff whose day job is training teachers of mathematics.  If you had a teacher like Mr. Taylor, or you just learned math “the old way”, this will be an informative and extremely useful time for you.  Please watch the Happenings for specific details.  For more information on our math program, you can visit our math curriculum update.

At Friends’ we understand the skills that our children will need to succeed in the 21st century. It is essential that our students not only excel at knowing math facts, but are also capable of problem solving, reasoning and proving, communicating, connecting, and representing math. We work diligently to ensure that students develop the ability to think mathematically, mentally manipulate numbers, learn math facts, and understand the abstract procedures of mathematics.

 We want our students to remember more than just nose hairs!

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