Things to Focus On

A couple of weeks ago we ran a workshop with all of our secondary schools and talked about some things that can help us help kids learn math.  Here’s a summary of some of the points we discussed along with some relevant articles/videos/etc.

1)  Closing the Gender Gap

In general, our boys are doing better than our girls, particularly in the applied stream.  Jo Boaler’s book, “What’s Math Got to Do With It?” raises some good points on why girls sometimes fall behind boys in mathematics.  Her research has shown that while boys tend to be content following a set of rules, girls need to know the “why” behind the mathematics.  She advocates for “classes in which students discuss concepts, giving them access to a deep and connected understanding of math [which] are good for girls and for boys.”

Jo Boaler also has a video (from the course she offered this summer) talking about stereotypes and growth mindset. 

The research she quotes was done by Carol Dweck and can be found in this article: Is Math a Gift? Beliefs That Put Females at Risk

2) Creating Opportunities for Discussion

Discussion of math concepts is important in helping students develop a deeper understanding of the mathematics.  Malcolm Swan’s Standards Unit offers some great suggestions for incorporating and encouraging discussion in the classroom.

Cathy Bruce has a video about Math Talk on the Ontario Ministry of Education’s “Webcasts For Educators” site. There is also a talk by Dan Meyer about inquiry, the power of predicting and the importance of having a clear goal in mind.

One way to encourage discussion in math class is by giving students problems that encourage discussion.  The Grade 9 Writing Team that got together in the summer came up with some great problems that are available in First Class.  There are also some great blogs that offer some other suggestions for “perplexing problems.” A few to check out are Dan Meyer, Fawn Nguyen, Robert Kaplinsky, Sam Shah, and of course our very own What Did You Do in Math Today blog.

See OAME 2013 Presentation – Talk is Cheap so Let’s Make the Most of it

3)  The Importance of Mistakes

Mistakes are imperative for learning.  This video, again from the course Jo Boaler ran this summer, explains the science behind mistakes.

There is actually a blog about making mistakes! It is appropriately named Math Mistakes and contains pictures of errors students make in their work.

4) From Patterns to Algebra

This resource is invaluable for teaching grade 9 math in either the academic or applied stream.  It not only connects what students already know about linear relations to allow them to go deeper in grade 9, but also allows them to develop really flexible thinking around the multiple representations.  See You gotta try this!

5) Growth vs Fixed Mindset

The other piece we talked about is student (and teacher) mindset.  This is a new idea that we were introduced to during Jo Boaler’s summer course that has a lot of implications for teaching and learning.  This is the video we showed explaining the science behind brain plasticity and what that means for the teaching and learning of mathematics.

The tasks that we give students can be designed to encourage a growth mindset in our students.  Tasks of this nature include: (taken from Jo Boaler’s summer course)
1. Openness
2. Different ways of seeing
3. Multiple entry points
4. Multiple paths strategies
5. Clear learning goals and opportunities for feedback

6) EQAO Strategies Across Schools

We also spent some time talking about strategies that schools across the board are having success with when it comes to EQAO. These included:
1. Logistics – writing during one day, time between booklets, etc.
2. Support from across the school – peer tutors, LRT, greater awareness to school and parents
3. Using exemplars – give students exemplars (without the codes) and have them try to determine the coes, have students complete an open problem and compare their solution to the scoring guides to determine their score, etc.
4. Familiarity with EQAO-type questions – use previous EQAO questions on tests, reviews, diagnostics, as problems to investigate during class; have conversations about multiple choice distractors
5.  Extra support for students – EQAO midterm, MSIP, after-hours numeracy



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