Last summer I attended a conference given by the LCEEQ about teaching math. Sounds tempting, doesn’t it? A two day conference in the middle of the summer about teaching math? Fortunately, the LCEEQ made it easy to decide to attend this conference. It took place in Manoir St-Sauveur, a luxury hotel in the middle of one of Quebec’s favorite ski villages.
While I was at the conference, I got to know some of the most motivated teachers in the province, who were willing to give up a part of their summer vacation to become better teachers. I also made some new friends that I can contact when I have questions about anything teaching related. Lastly, I became a member of a PDIG group that was created as a result of this conference.
During the conference, we were fortunate to learn from the authors of “Beyond the Common Core: A Handbook for Mathematics in a PLC at Work, Grades K-5”, Juli Dixon, Thomasina Lott Adams and Edward Nolan. They led group discussions and taught us different strategies for teaching math effectively. Not only did they know what they were talking about, they provided examples and taught us the way they encourage us to teach math to our students.
Here are the five key points that they emphasize during the conference:
1. Students should provide strategies rather than learning them from teachers.
Teachers should provide problems to students, but students should come up with their own strategies to solve them. They need to tap into their prior knowledge and use their classmates’ thoughts and thinking as a sounding board to develop a better understanding of a problem in order to be able to solve it. Solutions and strategies that students come up with will be more effective for them and students are more likely to retain them.
2. Teachers can provide strategies “as if” from students.
Wait a minute. What?
Are they encouraging us to LIE to our students?
If your students are having trouble figuring out how to solve a problem or to develop strategies, teachers can provide hints as though they had overheard it from a student. Students are more likely to pay attention and retain the information if it comes from a peer! And if another student doesn’t come up with a strategy on their own, it is okay to pretend and to lead students in the right direction, without necessarily providing answers to them.
3. Students should create context to make problems more accessible.
In the following video, Juli Dixon asks the students to solve a problem. She provides a task to the students and then asks them to work together to come up with a solution. She asks guiding questions, such as:
- What are you working on?
- What do you think?
- What do you mean?
- Who can come up with an explanation as to why…?
She then proceeds to ask the students to see the problem beyond the rules, to create problems to represent the task at hand. This makes the problem more accessible and easier for students to visualize in order to find the solution.
The example in this video is completed with older students, but it works the same way with little ones.
4. Students do the sense making.
Students should provide the logic and information in order to be able to solve the task at hand. Everything needs to come from the students and students should build on each other’s understand. They should paraphrase each other’s explanations. This could be done by asking questions such as:
- What did he/she mean by that?
- Can you explain what he/she just did?
- Students talk to students.
5. Have students teach each other their strategies and share their contexts.
It always seems simpler when explained by a peer than a teacher. Besides, what do grown-ups really know anyway? 🙂
As a result of this conference, my PDIG group members and I are working to find examples of context that can be used when teaching math to our students, to make math more relatable and accessible. We are visiting each other’s schools to observe each other implementing the strategies we’ve learning in order to improve our teaching methods.
This summer I will be attending the follow-up LCEEQ conference to the conference I attended last summer. The same brilliant presenters will be there, guiding us to improved math instruction. I am looking forward to it!