Focus on Math

Helping children become mathematicians!

IES Study Re: Grade 4-8 Math May 25, 2012

This week the Institute of Education Sciences released their publication of the “New Practice Guide: Improving Mathematical Problem Solving in Grades 4 Through 8”. In this they offer five recommendations of research-based practices for teaching problem solving:

1. Prepare problems (both routine and non-routine) and use them in whole-class instruction.
2. Assist students in monitoring and reflecting on the problem-solving process.
3. Teach student how to use visual representations.
4. Expose students to multiple problem-solving strategies.
5 Help students recognize and articulate mathematical concepts and notation.

The authors of the study actually rated the five practices as to the strength of evidence they had to support its recommendation. Two were rated with “strong evidence”. Can you guess which two they were? Reflection and representation. This was no surprise to me.

Reflection is a part of self-assessment, which, according to Dylan Wiliam, when used with peer-assessment, makes “distinct contributions to the development of students’ learning. Indeed, they (self- and peer-assessment) secure aims that cannot be achieved in any other way” ( “Working Inside the Black Box”, Phi Delta Kappan, Sept. 2004).

Representation is one of the Five Process Standards listed in Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (NCTM, 2000), referring to the processes through which students should acquire and use mathematical knowledge. Representation, along with problem-solving, reasoning and proof, communication, and connections, are seen as integral components of all mathematics learning. They direct the methods or processes of doing all mathematics.

Click here for a link to the IES site where you can download the full study.
Mathematically yours,


Let’s Go Beyond Algorithms

Filed under: General Math,Parents — Focus on Math @ 9:24 am

An algorithm (according to wikipedia) is a step-by-step procedure for doing calculations. Most of us have spent hours practicing them in procedures like adding decimals, doing multi-digit multiplication or long division. The problem with algorithms is the fact that the step-by-step procedure is nothing more than a set of rules, and a person does not have to understand the mathematics behind the procedure to follow the instructions. I wrote about this idea last month in the post titled “Place Value not Face Value”. Until students really understand the concepts, it is not a good idea to practice what does not make sense to them.

I won’t rewrite all my views here, but I do want to add a link to a video that drives home this point. You may have seen this Ma and Pa Kettle math clip before, but it is worth watching again.

Ma and Pa Kettle Math

We need students to be really thinking about mathematics and what the numbers really mean.
Mathematically yours,


Bedtime Math: A Great Alternative/Addition to the Bedtime Story May 18, 2012

Filed under: General Math,Parents,Primary Math Ideas & Problems — Focus on Math @ 9:49 am

I have just come across a wonderful site for parents wanting to do a bit of math with their children. Bedtime Math is the brainchild of Laura Bilodeau Overdeck, who, though not a teacher, definitely knows something about numbers given her degree in astrophysics!

The concept was this: give math some time regularly each day like parents often do for reading stories. So each day Laura posts a tidbit of information along with three math problems created from the numbers in the information: one for “wee ones” (targeted at pre-school children), one for “little kids” ( for children in kindergarten through grades 1 or 2) and one for “big kids” (for children in grade 2 and up). Oh, yes, the answers are posted there too, so you don’t have to sweat it out! Of course you are not limited to the questions she has written — you or you child can make up other questions, too. It is not an official curriculum, just a way for parents to have fun with their kids with math.

I personally think this is a great idea. First, numbers are all around us all the time, but we as parents don’t always stop and talk to our kids about numbers and number concepts. Secondly, doing math in an inquisitive, fun way helps children develop a positive disposition about mathematics.

Of course, if you are a grandparent, this is a wonderful idea for you, too!

So tonight when you are thinking about choosing a bedtime story to read to your children, think about Bedtime Math, too! I hope you will give this a try.

Mathematically yours,

click here for Link to Bedtime Math site


Upcoming Math Camp 2012 May 17, 2012

Filed under: General Math,Ideas from Carollee's Workshops — Focus on Math @ 2:10 pm

SD#60’s Summer Institute for mathematics is on the horizon! Math Camp 2012 will be held here in Fort St John August 29 (focusing on grades 3-5), August 30 (focusing on K-2) and August 31 (focusing on 6-8). It is a great opportunity to start thinking about mathematics for the fall and to get set for the new school year. Yes, I know we are still wrapping up this school year, but one needs to be forward-thinking, don’t you agree 🙂

I hope you have the chance to join us for one of the sessions in August. Those who have attended SD#60’s Summer Institutes in the past will tell you it’s a great way to start the school year. In fact, I humbly offer these comments taken from the ‘Feedback & Reflections’ sheet participants filled out last year:

  • “It was awesome! 3 times I’ve participated. 3 times I learned more than I ever learned in my entire math life previously.” (T.F.)
  • “Every senior math teacher needs these strategies!” (S.B.)
  • “I really enjoyed the hands-on work with the manipulatives. It made it easy to see how that would work with students.” (M.D.)
  • “This was fabulous! I loved everything. I am not super-comfortable with math and this made me feel much better.” (S.R.)
  • “Carollee, you are shifting paradigms that I thought were rooted in concrete! I love it! I like math more all the time!” (S.S.)

There you have it! You will be missing out in a big way if you don’t join us for Math Camp 2012!
Mathematically yours,

download the full-sized poster here