Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Putting my new learning into practise... Awesome!

Last week I went to my first session of maths professional development with Bobbie Hunter. What a fabulous opportunity! So much of what she said made so much sense to me with light bulb after light bulb going on as the session progressed. This year it would be fair to say that the low levels of mathematical ability in my groups have challenged me week after week. I have gone back to the drawing board so many times as I endeavour to help my learners make the important connections to the skills and knowledge needed to allow them to operate at the Year 7/8 level. However despite my continued efforts I have remained completely perplexed with this situation.

A discussion I had with Bobbie forced me to take a step back and think about how my low expectations were affecting the outcomes in my maths lessons. I am very aware of the need to provide learning opportunities that my learners can resonate with, but for some reason I have overlooked the obvious when thinking about what needed to change. Me!

She suggested I let go of the desire to build number knowledge to a level that I felt my learners could cope with and actually provide learning opportunities that ticked the Level 4 boxes of the NZ maths curriculum. By lowering my expectations I was actually hampering my learner's progress. Whilst I have used thinking groups successfully in the past, this year I have completely overlooked this as a teaching tool as I thought (wrongly), that my learners would not be able to actively participate. I definitely had not thought about the fact that regardless of level (in this case ranging from JAM stage 1- 4) that there is so much that can be gained by providing opportunities to 'argue' reasoning and thinking. At no point had I thought about the importance of allowing my learners to engage with their errors in a peer protected environment. 

By embracing the idea that if my learners could explain and justify their thinking they could understand and use I introduced todays problem...

The question(s) I posed were linked to my learner's own worlds through our cluster wide inquiry and our recent camp at Hunua Falls. This empowered everyone from the outset as they could relate to what I was asking them to do. The affirmation came in the form of one student who said, "I understand why you need us to work this out Mrs Anderson. We have to help Auckland save water."

To set the scene I read out and showed a recent mailer I received with my water bill. We tapped into our inquiry knowledge to make connections to the topic then met our new thinking groups. To make sure everyone knew what 1 litre looked like we created a list of what we knew that came in 1 litre amounts. Coke was the most popular so that is the image I grabbed.

With initial connections made my learners took their first tiny steps into the world of problem solving. I told them they could use any strategy, number knowledge or maths equipment they wanted to find the answer. After a slow start this lesson took off. We celebrated every answer regardless of how the answer was found. Then in groups had our first dialogic maths conversations to decide as a group which strategy was the best one. The only scaffolding I put in place was the word 'because' and used the think aloud strategy to model how to state an opinion then use the word 'because' to support my thinking. Surprisingly each group had a different opinion.

Finding out how many litres of water we could save individually per week if we saved 20 litres per day was answered first. After the discussions I outlined above I posed the second part of the problem. 'How many litres of water would LS2 save per week if all 50 students saved 20 litres per day?' Once again I noticed a wide variety of strategies being used. Interestingly a few students were experimenting with the thinking shared in the first problem. I am excited to see where this journey takes us tomorrow...