Saturday, 15 August 2015

Reflecting for Improving......

School starts back next week and so I'm starting to get my head back on in how to inspire my students to appreciate, and dare I say, enjoy maths.

At the end of last year, I asked my students to complete a short survey on our maths programme so I could find out how I could improve it further this coming year. I've just finished rereading their feedback and found some interesting results.

For context, it's important to understand my students have come from years of the Everyday Math textbook 'programme' which thankfully has just been ditched in favour of creating PYP Maths Planners this year. 

One of the questions I had surveyed my students:

One of my big goals this year was to help each of you to enjoy and find maths more interesting than you did before. How successful has our maths learning been with this?

I find maths a lot more enjoyable and interesting.1381.3%
I find maths more interesting, but not really that much more enjoyable.212.5%
I find maths learning more enjoyable, but not that much more interesting.00%
I find maths about the same as when I entered Year 616.3%
My appreciation for maths learning has decreased a bit this year.00%
That's pretty good feedback I think, though as mentioned, when you inherit kids who have come from the Everyday Math textbook, it's not that big of a challenge to help inspire them into mathematical thinking when you use an inquiry-based learning approach.  I had kept tally marks over the year of the number of activity sheets I had given my students in maths during class time and had reached 24 and each of them I had made so they were inquiry-based. Not bad I think, though I'm making it a personal challenge to decrease that this coming year.

When asking how they felt about our maths learning this year, almost every student responded in a similar way: the Everyday Math textbook they had used in previous years was boring, they didn't use to like maths, they never felt maths was interesting or enjoyable.

Some sample responses which sums up the general feeling of my students:

° "I have found it a lot more interesting and fun than my previous maths classes because instead of doing boring stuff from textbooks, we do hands on activities and we do activities that will be useful later in life."

° " I thought I learnt a lot more because with everyday math it was so boring and it was always the same. Now we can investigate what interests us and make our own questions to enquire into."

° "I've never been allowed to enquire into things I want to learn about in maths. I didn't really want to learn much in maths but this year I want to learn so much more. This year is the first time I have wanted to learn about maths."

° " I was so bored of everyday maths but now I know maths is like a puzzle and a mystery that I like to discover."

° "My attitude has changed a lot because I used to hate maths and I always struggled. I now want to try harder in maths because I know that it isn't that hard as it used to be in previous years."

Reading through these, it's not that surprising to me that they have enjoyed maths a lot more without textbooks, a really awful textbook at that. I had heard this sort of feedback throughout the year and students who used to believe they were 'not good' at maths were often remarking how easy they were finding maths this year.  

That, I feel is one of the big benefits of using PYP planners for maths and treating maths in a similar way we treat our Units of Inquiry: we tune into the topic, generate questions to explore, find out what we personally want to learn and share our findings.  Those who have been led to believe they are 'bad' at maths when given opportunities to enquire themselves quickly discover they can and are successful mathematicians.  

Textbooks don't allow those children to feel like that.  Textbooks are geared towards the middle bar and if you haven't developed those key mathematical concepts or skills pegged at that middle bar, you will always be made to feel you struggle even if your teacher is differentiating for you with different activities. Kids clearly know if the rest of the class is doing page 126 and the teacher has given you some handout, that it means you aren't 'clever' or 'good' at maths. 

Equally, when we treat maths the same way we treat our Units of Inquiry, those with more advanced mathematical understandings are given opportunities to really take their learning much further than I could hope to help them achieve. This is mostly because they know what they want to learn. They know where their understanding is at and with just some slight guidance in the tuning in stage of the maths unit, I can help them with suggestions of what they may want to explore in relation to that maths topic. 

All done without a textbook or worksheets.....


When asked how I could help improve the maths programme next year, there weren't too many suggestions, but quite a few mentioned wanting to be given the opportunity to do even more personal enquiries into maths topics:

° "Doing even more personal maths enquiries because I like to learn new things about parts of the topic that I am more interested in."

° "I think we learn more when we can choose what to enquire about so you should let next year's kids do even more personal enquiries. I have never done that before and I really liked it a lot. I felt like I was a real mathematician."

° "Apart from the interactive activities we did, the best part of maths for me was when we investigated our own questions so you should definitely do that more."

This I found really interesting. I knew they enjoyed that part of our maths learning cycle and could see their pride in what they were discovering. I certainly saw every student becoming increasingly more successful at enquiring into their own interests with deeper questions. As the year progressed, they became stronger at thinking of aspects of a maths topic in focus that they could explore with less and less guidance from me. I need to think how I can incorporate this even more next year!!

What was holding me back last year not to allow personal enquiries even more so than we were doing? 

How can I free myself even further from not needing to be concerned with standardised testing results?

I think I should really ensure that every maths topic this year must include a few days where the children are given ample opportunities to develop and explore their personal enquiries in maths. Those personal enquiries in themselves did serve as really useful assessment tools where I could easily identify their strengths and weaknesses as mathematicians and as inquirers. 

Remember to do this Graeme!

When I look at their feedback (below) of maths topics they felt they improved their understanding the most, I can clearly see that the topics selected were those they were given the most time for their personal enquiries. They were the topics I stood back the most in the unit and just guided when needed for suggestions of what they might want to discover next.  

A maths topic I feel I greatly improved in understanding this year was:

Number systems16.3%
Mental strategies743.8%
Measuring time637.5%
Measuring volume & capacity531.3%
Measuring area & perimeter318.8%
Reading graphs212.5%
Fractions / decimals / %1275%
Measuring length425%
Measuring mass425%
I think this is really telling of what makes maths learning the most effective. The topics ranked the least were the topics that were more teacher-directed with me giving them activities and not giving them enough time to create and explore their own enquiries. 
The more I stand back and give students the time to explore their personal maths enquiries, the more memorable and effective the learning is. When children are given opportunities to take ownership of their own learning, even in maths, the learning is far more successful.
Remember this Graeme!!!!

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