Building a Math Community 

It was early in September when I discovered I was in serious trouble with my students and Mathematics. Not only were the majority of students lacking a concrete sense of number; their mindset was problematic. It became my mission to strive to create a rich math community where all students were engaged and growing as learners.Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 1.12.47 PM

My first task was to try to change the mindset of my students around math. We looked at one of my favourite Prezi’s; Mindset Theory for Students and discussed taking ownership over our own learning. Students really seemed to understand that they are responsible for their learning, and that challenges meant growth was happening!IMG_0948

Next I decided to create life size models of familiar math materials. I grabbed my rolls of tape and set to work. Our classroom carpet has a giant place value mat where we explore numbers using base ten materials as a whole group. We also have a 5 foot by 5 foot hundred square grid taped onto the floor. I printed off numbers 0-100 in red and black and laminated the two sided cards.

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We spent much of September exploring math materials and develop a sense of ‘howmuchness’ in number. Lessons are set around one of our floor models and students use white board versions to follow along. We refer to this seating format as our knowledge building circle; as co-learners we share our knowledge and build an understanding in a supportive setting. What I really like about this format is that everyone is included and I am able to see misconceptions and provide immediate feedback. Initially I did much of the leading however as students have gained more confidence I have become more of a facilitator.

Students were still resistant to taking risks when it came to written work. There is something incredibly intimidating about putting pencil to paper for many students. White board markers on table tops provided an easy solution to this problem! Students loved the idea of writing on desks and the large workspace lends itself nicely to collaboration. Creating student folders in Google Drive allows me to store documentation of digital work with ease. Recently, we have begun to use SeeSaw. This app allows students to upload digital content and assign it to their own portfolio. As an added feature, they can add audio or text to discuss their content.

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I still found students were not as engaged as I would like. I also found this particular group of students really wanted a great deal of reassurance and attention. I decided to harness the power of social media in order to access an audience for them. Early in the year I had students consolidate our learning about patterning by creating a math questions with a partner, that we would tweet out. As soon as we had our first response (and I did some messaging in advance to ensure we would have an active and immediate audience) they were HOOKED! Almost every week we send out math questions to fellow students across the world, administrators, parents and community members. We have a set of criteria established prior to tweeting out our questions and their understanding of concepts is assessed during these tasks.

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Problem solving is centred around authentic problems in our classroom. We wanted to determine if the public service announcements we planned to create about our local food bank would have an impact and so we used Google Forms to survey over 150 people via social media. We used our Twitter analytics to determine when the best time to tweet out our PSAs would be. When planting seeds to grow food for our local food bank we needed to determine how much soil would be required for the 96 plants and which soil was the best value based on price.

A Number Talk is displayed when the trigger point is scanned with Aurasma
A Number Talk is displayed when the trigger point is scanned with Aurasma

Number Talks have provided an opportunity for students to develop their math vocabulary while strengthening their mental math skills. Twenty minutes a day is devoted to solving 3-4 questions. Students use math language to explain their strategies while I record thinking on our SmartBoard. Often, a student will discover their own errors as they explain their thinking. Mistakes are celebrated as “AHA” moments and a group of students that was once reluctant to answer based on fear now recognizes the value of errors. Scanning our Math Wall with Aurasma you can watch video of our Number Talks.

Using Plickers allows me to assess student understanding quickly and tracks the data for me. Four questions a day; from multiple strands are displayed on our smart board. We answer quickly and students justify their decisions for their peers. Using the cards allows me to ensure all students have a voice in every single math class.

Students answer math questions based on individual needs
Students answer math questions based on individual needs on our Math Minute wall

My students have become confident is selecting efficient materials to solve math tasks and share their work. Rekenreks, ten frames, Explain Everything and table tops are routinely used to show work. Conversations are rich and meaningful and students engage in math talk when I least expect it. They have evolved into risk takers, problem solvers and they recognize that not knowing the answer is okay. What is important is understanding how to access and use the tools to solve problems. They have become incredibly supportive of their peers; when Cameron moved from decomposing numbers to twos to add to making tens his classmates all cheered for him, recognizing his step towards a more efficient strategy in addition!

We have very little paper evidence of our work, but the work we do is engaging and authentic. Our math class is built around talk, exploration, collaboration and sharing. When we have free time they usually ask for mat Some of my students still struggle with concepts however all of my students enjoy math; as all students should.

Measuring the length of our plants
Measuring the length of our plants

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