Elementary Math, Number Sense, Pedagogy, Uncategorized

Creating a Math Community

Friends, it’s the time of year that teachers are thinking about the return to school or you’re already back and in the swing of things.

First, I want to wish each and every one of you a great school year!

I know that a lot of you that follow me here at Make Math Meaningful do not just teach math. Some of you teach all contents or maybe math and one other subject. Either way, ideas you’re about to read through are not just for mathematics. These ideas can be connected to all subjects.

As you’re beginning the 2022-2023 school year you are starting to build a family within the walls of your classroom. From my experience in education over the last 17 years, all teachers want to build a love of learning in their students. We want our students to believe in themselves, no matter their circumstances outside of the school building. We as teachers want to create a space that everyone feels welcome and accepted. We want to create a space that all students can learn.

When it comes specifically to math, we may need to take some extra steps to create a positive math experience. Too often adults put a sour taste in our youngest mathematicians mouths by the things they say. Things such as, “I’m not a math person.”, “Math is not my thing.” or “Math is hard.” These negative things that are said by adults in front of students is not ok. One of the first things I do every year is to get ahead of these negative comments by letting the parents know that we need to keep the negative comments at bay. We don’t want to put those thoughts and feelings on their children. I do this through parent newsletters or by hosting a parent math night where I lay out the road map for our year and how I teach math differently to reach all learners and allow my students to think freely and flexibly about numbers to build their number sense. I haven’t had a parent yet leave my parent math nights continuing to think it’s ok to “not be a math person.”

The ever popular “Growth Mindset” idea that has blown up over the last 5 or so years helps with keeping the negative thoughts stay away. Reminding students that maybe they don’t know how to do something YET is very important. If you have not read Limitless Mind by Jo Boaler, I highly recommend it. The entire book goes through various stories and ways we can encourage our students to have a growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset. Boaler uses evidence from scientific evidence and hundreds of resources to make her points about how the brain is adaptable and we are able to continue to mold and change it. Talking with students about how their brain works and how they can create and strengthen their neuropathways helps them understand how learning works, which leads to ownership of their own education.

Another thing I do with my students is to create a T-chart with them about what we want our Math Community in our classroom to look like and sound like. We want to establish early on what it looks like and sounds like for the following ways mathematicians act:

  • State WHY and HOW we came to our answers using reasoning and proof.
  • Using our math tools to learn in class.
  • Communicating respectfully and responsibly when we disagree with a classmate’s answer.
  • Make connections to what we already know.
  • When we get to a block in our thinking road, what can we do and how can we find a detour instead of shutting down.

As the teacher, it’s your job to model and teach the expectations for your students in your classroom. I always had such a fun time modeling with any of my co-teachers what all of the above looks and sounds like, and what they should not look or sound like. The kids always got a kick out what certain actions do not look or sound like. Our little show gave them something to remember when it came to our expectations.

Did anyone notice that the bullet points above are most of our 8 Mathematical Practices? It’s not a coincidence. Helping your students understand the expectations of the 8 Mathematical Practices at the given grade level is something that needs to be happening with any set of standards you are teaching. If you’re looking for an easy to understand poster to hang up or recreate, below is my favorite. This particular poster puts the long explanation of the 8 Mathematical Practices into some basic, easy to understand words. You can download it here.

8 Mathematical Practices

I have many people ask, “What’s the difference between our learning standards and the 8 Mathematical Practices?” I love to share the image below with them. The biggest difference is the learning standards tell us WHAT needs to be taught. The Mathematical Practices help students understand what skills they need to use to understand and express the learning standards.

Learning Standards vs. Mathematical Practices

Math is not always as black and white as it has thought to be. Demonstrate and encourage your students to work their way through the 8 Mathematical Practices to think FREELY & FLEXIBILY about math. We want students to have ownership of their own education inside the math community you are building in your classroom. Encourage students to be brave in sharing their thinking when it comes to problem solving. This poster has been hung up right outside or inside my classroom for years and years. I want students to always remember to think freely and flexibly in our math community.

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