This weekend is the annual parent conference here in Fort St John, BC, put on by School District #60 and some other community partners.
I have the privilege of presenting a session, the title of which is the title of this post. It is an important topic, one which is of concern for both parents and teachers alike. What do we do when our children or students are not “getting the math”? And what does it actually mean to “get the math”?
Because of the way that math as been traditionally taught (for many generations), most of us think that doing pages of problems all of which follow the same formula or algorithm is “doing math”. Indeed, we have little experience doing anything else in math. But once someone has correctly done their 50 problems (for instance, multiplying a 2-digit number by a 2-digit number), what can one see about the person’s learning? I propose that such a page of problems tell us only two things: first, that the person knows their basic facts, and second, that the person knows how to follow directions. There is nothing in a page of 50 problems to show that the learner understands anything about the concept of multiplication or knows when multiplying is the appropriate operation. The same can be said for any page of practice problems where there is no context given, and no questions which address the mathematical concepts which underlie the rule-based practice.
One way to change this is to ask students to do a word-based question through strategies which show their understanding of the math. Most of us, again because of our educational experiences, think there is only one “right way” to add, one “right way” to subtract, etc. In fact, there are many ways to do each of these operations, and almost all of the other non-traditional ways are more meaningful to students (and adults!).
If you will be in FSJ on Saturday, I encourage you to attend the parent conference (pre-register at the school district website http://www.prn.bc.ca) and, of course, come see me!