Understanding the (not so) New Math

https://en.wikipedia.org/
https://en.wikipedia.org/

I will confess I am a social media junkie and like to participate on a daily basis.  I encourage our teachers to use twitter accounts to share classroom happenings and I put effort into keeping our Pleasantdale School twitter account and Facebook page up to date. I have always had an unwritten rule about social media, that I follow not matter what.  I do not allow myself to jump into negative discussions.  I do not feel that social media is the place to voice our misunderstandings and would rather go to the source and try to educate myself before jumping on a negative band wagon that I may not understand.

Earlier this week, however, I came across a Facebook post about the “new” math.  Now I put quotations around “new” because I personally feel it is “not so new”.  I understand why people call it new, because it is different approach to teaching and learning math than most adults have experienced. The Facebook post I am referring to is one many of you have probably seen.  It shows a simple math question being answered in one step and then goes to compare the same math question being solved in multiple steps, using what might be an unfamiliar strategy for many of us.  The post goes on to imply that the long drawn out answer is what makes our “new” math so ridiculous and nonsensical.  It also implies that all aspects of all math classes involve long drawn processes, rather than a simple algorithm solution.

Now, most of know that things in the media or, as an extension, social media, can be portrayed just a bit biased or out of the context of the big picture.  In seeing the post I felt myself being drawn into the discussion.  I explained my understanding and experience of math in the classroom on a daily basis.  I quickly, however, jumped out as the discussion continued on in a negative direction.  I could see that no one was wanting to consider any other perspective than the one they already had.

As a child my experience with math was a very negative one.  I would start each new year, with my new scribbler doing well with the first review unit.  I like my notebooks neat and clean and would line up my questions in neat and tidy rows, feeling confident.  However, my confidence was more often than not, soon dashed.  I did not understand numbers and my memorization of basic algorithms only took me so far. Soon my tidy notebook was a mess of erased spots, scribbles and re-written numbers.   I could not transfer my understandings from one context to another and soon found myself repeating the same memorization process while being secluding away from the rest of the class with others like me. Somehow repeating the same methods of learning, over and over again, never really worked.

My experience was so negative that when I was choosing where I wanted to go after high school I actually tried to find a future career that would not require me to do any math. I remember flipping through college brochures trying to find some career in which I could work with children but never have to teach them math.  Thankfully, my confidence in math did build as an adult and although I did not directly start my career to be a teacher and a principal, I was able to achieve these goals and I realized, as an adult, I could in fact understand and do math.

Grade 4, Understanding Multiplication
Grade 4, Understanding Multiplication

This story and confession leads me to why I wanted to write this post, rather than continue in a negative Facebook discussion.  I think that there are many parents, community members, and others who still wonder why we are teaching math in this “new” way.  I think we have tried to educate others about the need for our students to understand numbers and not just memorize algorithms in order to be successful in using math in many different situations.  I also think that we need to continue to do so.

I have countless moments of awe when I am hanging out in math classes with students.  As a matter of fact, my own math confidence continues to grow as I watch our student work in math classes demonstrating, for me, ways to break down and understand numbers I have never considered before.  I can relate to the struggle a non-confident math student goes through and it is a wonderful thing watching them reach understanding by allowing them to use other strategies and straying away from only memorizing basic algorithms.

Representing numbers, Mrs. Mukendi, Oxbow School
Representing numbers, Mrs. Mukendi, Oxbow School

One of the best explanations for our need to use “new” math strategies , that I have seen, is in a video Why is Math Different Now?  Posted by Dr. Raj Shah who is the owner and founder of Math Plus Academy in Columbus, Ohio.  I hope you will take a few minutes and an open mind to watch his explanation and consider his thoughts.

The things I think I would like to share about math in the classroom today are the following:

  1. There are many ways to arrive at an answer to a math problem, not just one.
  2. It will perhaps surprise some, that the “old” way of doing math is still a strategy taught to our students and used in the classroom every day, but it is not the only one.
  3. It also may surprise some to know that we do, in fact, continue to drill the basic math facts that provide the foundation to all other math.
  4. Many of the problems that will face our children, are not one-step, one solution kind of problems.  We will need our children to understand there are many solutions to most problems and have the skills needed to consider those multiple solutions.
  5. The thing that has the greatest effect on a child’s confidence in math is the attitude of parents or caregivers to the subject.  Positive talk about math, new or old, is very important to student success.
Grade 5, Patterns in numbers
Grade 5, Patterns in numbers

 

I think raising children and teaching are two of the hardest, but most rewarding things that we are blessed to be able to do.  I hope we will not keep adding new things to our already busy lives, but I hope we will never keep trying to get better at the things we already do.  If you are wondering about reasons we have moved to the processes involved in “new” math in the classroom today, please do not hesitate to talk to a teacher.

 

 

January 2015 #pdale Teacher Twitter Challenge

 

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http://www.business2community.com/

As many of you know when I was taking my master’s degree I learned so many things that changed my entire philosophy of education.  Learning from people like Alec Couros and Dean Shareski opened my ideas to many ideas that I had never even thought of before.  My first experience in an open education course scared me to death.  Being online with 200+ people from all over the world was an idea I had never even considered before.  It was through taking courses that I learned about web tools such as blogs, wiki spaces and many others.  It was also through these courses that I realized the importance of being a connected educator.

I was shocked once again, 2 years ago when we agreed to send Devin, Kimberley and Nicole to Philadelphia to attend the Educon Conference.  When they returned and taught us how to use twitter, I had no idea how something so simple would, once again, change my entire view of professional development.

People who say things such as…

“Why would I care what people are having for dinner?” or  “Why do I care when people are doing their laundry?”

…have no idea the opportunities for individualized learning that twitter and other social media sites make possible.

I know that everyone learns in their own way and learning through twitter might not be for everyone, but I also feel so strongly about the importance of making connections.  Connections open doors to other classrooms, to other methodologies, to opportunities to learn about things we have never heard of and connections also give us the opportunity to share what we are doing with others so they may learn from us.

https://betheloveoflife.wordpress.com/
https://betheloveoflife.wordpress.com/

I also believe strongly about telling our own positive story.  The things we are doing every day are too important to leave to chance.  We need to be in charge of spreading our story to our parents and community in our way.

Connections do not have to be made through twitter, but that is where we are going to start.

I thought it would be a fun idea to jump in and do a challenge in January so we could learn together in a similar manner to the blogging we did together a few years ago.

I hope you will use this opportunity to reach out of your comfort zone.  For some of you the reach will be longer than others.  You will not be alone!  We are all in this together.

 

The January 2015 #pdale Teacher Twitter Challenge!

http://www.powtoon.com/show/gbmGizJhTQo/mission-possible

The following is a video of Alec Couros talking about twitter in education:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqSCR3HU4eg

 

Some links that might be useful:

List of recommended people to follow sorted by their role in education.

List of classrooms around the world that tweet.

Weekly twitter chat days and times.

Great twitter classroom connections.

Twitter for Teachers

Establishing a twitter routine in the classroom

Participating in a twitter chat

Please remember you are not alone!  I can’t wait to see the things we can learn!

 

Tooting Our Own Horn

bulldog logo

I finally received my copy of Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times, by Eric Sheninger. I am over 1/2 way through already taking advantage of a 2 hour drive to my son’s hockey game yesterday and some reading to my cell phone light on the way home. The book is very motivating and thought-provoking as I thought it probably would be. There are many ideas for using social media for communication, public relations, engaging students, professional development of staff and much more. It is amazing what some of the schools mentioned in the book are doing simply by taking advantage of opportunities available to us by various forms of social media.

One thing I don’t think we do a very good job of is tooting our own horn. We have so many good things going on in our school, but because they are just part of our every day workings we do not share them or brag about them. A few times so far in my reading Mr. Sheninger has written, “If we do not tell our story, somebody else will. Unfortunately, more often than not, the story that is told is negative.” It is hard not to agree with this because we often see public education and schools portrayed in a negative way in the media.

As a digital leader in my school it is my responsibility to do a better job of building capacity through positive public relations. I can say my plate is full, or what if something negative happens, or I do not have time for one more thing, but in a lot of ways, that is a cop-out. We avoid doing things because of the “time” excuse and later realize that time spent pays off many fold and was well worth it.

I have seen links on twitter about branding, but honestly I have not really paid much attention because, like a lot of people, I usually associate branding with big business and I am in the business of children and people. What does branding have to do with that?

Branding is creating an identity that people will recognize and buy in to. We are in control of what is happening in our schools, for the most part, and we know there are many awesome, experiences, moments, techniques and celebrations happening every day so why not spread the word.

We have put a lot of effort this year into using twitter as a communication and public relations tool with developing and promoting a school twitter account @PDaleSchool and classroom twitter accounts for all of our classes. I think we have done a great job and parents appreciate the effort put into being able to see those small moments happening throughout the day, receiving notices of things happening at the school and links to parenting or educational information. I also think it is a great professional development tool for many of our teachers.

We have made a great step toward positive branding of our school. The question now is…what is the next step?