Teaching Math: The Road Less Travelled (Part 1)

In the opening keynote to this must-attend conference for math teachers, David Coffey presented a quote that challenged us to blaze our own trails instead of following in the footsteps of others.

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” Emerson

All weekend long this really hit home with me as a teacher.

To begin with, I tried something that I don’t think many other teachers have tried.  I let my students have a say in what sessions I attended.  Most of them didn’t have much of an opinion but some of them took the time to read through the sessions descriptions and pick a couple they thought would be good for me to learn about.

I figured since what I’m learning at the math conference ultimately impacts how I teach (and therefore impacts them as my learners) they should really have a say.  So on Day 1 I attended two of my “Student Choice” sessions.  Two of their top 3 choices were at the same time 😦

Chris McCullough – ATA Speaker:  Engaging Students (@mccullough9 on Twitter)

From Chris I picked up on 2 key learnings:

1.  Learning math doesn’t always happen in desks.  Ideas presented to promote this were activities such as Think/Pair/Share, Gallery Walk, Graffiti Learning.

2.  A key strategy in getting kids to learn is to make it interactive.  Get them thinking out loud, get them talking, and get them sharing with other kids.  It makes them think about what they are doing and learning and how to share it in a meaningful way.

David Coffey – Keynote Presenter for MCATA 2011:  Metacognition and Memoires (@delta_dc on Twitter)

Think about math, but think it out loud!  Coffey talked about having kids write down the steps they used to solve a given problem.  This doesn’t just include the steps or the procedures, but how you even started solving the problem in the first place.  Why that method?  Why not another one?  Did you go back and try something else?  Did it work?  Did it not work?

We must get kids past the “I just know it” phenomenon.  David suggests that you do that simply by saying to kids:  “Ok, but what if you didn’t?  How would you explain it?”

Coffey suggested we ask kids three questions when it comes to their learning:

1.  What? (What is it that you have learned?)

2. So what? (What was important about what you just learned or what you just did?)

3. Now what? (What is the next step?  Where do you go from here?)

And he suggested a great article called:  Making Learning Visible by David Perkins….because often times the learning is invisible because we don’t articulate it.

Joe Bower: Avoiding Mimicry in Math (@joe_bower on Twitter)

I am a follower of Joe’s blog and I can tell you one thing….Joe is VERY passionate about education.  Joe challenged us to think outside the box and really question how we go about teaching.  He played a segment of a video from Alfie Kohn who talked about how a group of Grade 1 students discovered standardized measurement.

Kohn says: “The best teachers have bite marks on their tongues.”

Ask questions worth answering, let children discover the answers, and hold off on your urge to just simply give it to them.  Wait time might not just be seconds or minutes…it might be days.  While silence to a radio DJ might signal death, in a classroom it signals thinking.

We don’t want our students to be mindless robots that can recite math facts and spit out formulas.  We want kids who can think about their learning and be persistent problem solvers.  Not all students are created equal, so we should not expect them to all develop the same exact skills in the same exact ways.  They are learners, not assembly factory products.

And so sums up Day 1 of MCATA 2011 hosted in Edmonton.  Day 2 was shorter but just as powerful when Dan Meyer took the stage.  More about that in my next post…..


About Cherra-Lynne Olthof

I've been a middle school teacher for my entire career (which began in 2001). Like my students, I too am a life long learner. My goals include helping my students to achieve their goals, support them in their learning, and to encourage them to think "beyond the grade".
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4 Responses to Teaching Math: The Road Less Travelled (Part 1)

  1. Great summary thank you! I am teacher in the UK and have been following #mcata11 on twitter and I wished I was there, so thanks for all the links. I will be trying to use a Think / Pair / Share activity this week to check prior knowledge and I love the David Coffey post. Lots of work to do now trying to include some of these in my teaching and learning.

    • Wow! I’m always shocked when I get readers from so far away – thanks for that 🙂 MCATA11 was an excellent conference, best I’ve been to in quite a while. Thanks for following our feed and I’ll be sure to get a Day 2 summary up for you.

  2. Terri says:

    Wow! Thank you for sharing! I just read Visible Learning by John Hattie and I would really recommend it. It is more of a resource for best practices as researched…but many of the strategies you are taking on…are some of the highest rated.

    I really feel you allowing the students input into your conference choices was insightful! I also agree that pupils should have a much strong voice in their learning and listening to them can increase the effectiveness of teaching and learning. Plus…their own voice engages them. Using more Visual Teaching helps them see why we use the methods we do and, I feel, demonstrates how much we care about them as people! I also like how you structured your post 🙂

    Thank you again!

  3. Guy I like this article which is so fabulous and that i am gonna save it, Something to say the Advanced evaluation this article has is actually trully amazing,That goes which one step further nowadays? Well done! Just another recommendation a person caninstall a Translator for your Worldwide Visitors.

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