Friday, October 16, 2015

Building Mathematical Excitement! ~ First Thoughts on Spiral Math in Intermediate

The purpose of this post is to reflect upon my first experiences with spiral math and document the initial process of teacher learning and planning. As an educator new to intermediate this year, I feel grateful to be a part of this learning journey with my teaching partners. Last spring we gathered together with our consultant to develop a conceptual understanding of spiral math. What is spiral math? How is it planned and implemented and why? How might it benefit student learning? The prezi below gives a great snapshot of some of the theoretical understandings that support this approach.

During this session, we dove into the curriculum and began extracting big ideas that would be the foundation of our spirals - common threads weaving concepts and processes together. Grant Wiggins podcast on big ideas offers insights into the pedagogy of big ideas.

Our BIG IDEAS collection: 
-We represent our thinking in many ways
-We identify, connect and compare relationships
-We efficiently solve problems using multiple strategies
-In order to make sense of math we estimate, predict, interpret, infer, judge reasonability of our work and draw conclusions
-We recognize multiple ways of reasoning (proportional, algebraic, spatial) are embedded throughout math

Then over the summer I spent some quality time familiarizing myself with the curriculum and 'doing math'. Resources such as Edugains and Big Ideas from Dr. Small  were extremely helpful not only in developing awareness of the content, but also the conceptual knowledge and understanding rooted within mathematical tasks and ideas. Towards the end of the summer the group met back together again to start our curriculum sort. The purpose behind this task was to link specific expectations with our big ideas - finding commonalities and connections between concepts. Then we began grouping expectations into initial spirals- thinking about possible iterations to build complexity throughout. Now after 6 weeks into the school year I really see the value in dedicating time to this task. Organization is key! With that being said, flexibility is also essential. Spiraling has allowed me to be far more responsive to the needs of the learners - adjusting pace and complexity based on needs.

Here is an example of a rich problem with multiple entry points allowing for a variety of methods to represent and find solutions. In order to help develop a growth mindset, I often attempt challenging problems like this one for the first time with the students. In this case, I grabbed a bucket of manipulatives and started to model the problem. Some students used trial and error or equations and came to a solution much before I did. Other students who were struggling a little, looked up with wide eyes and smiled when I asked for a few more minutes to come to a solution myself before checking in with them and to please verify with each other and compare strategies. We are on this journey together. Me included! When I finally arrived at a solution, I jumped up in the moment and yelled "Yes!". It was a great moment for all of us. We are learning to celebrate our successes and our failures and to lend support to each other along the way.

I am also having a lot of fun bringing in math from the world around us. This has included examining data during the elections, you tube 'likes' for integers, and my favourite - pumpkin math! Helping students see math in context is something I hope to continue focusing on this year. Spiraling has allowed for the connection between and within concepts to become apparent.

Monday, October 12, 2015

A Teacher's Gratitude

I have had many friends and colleagues ask about my first weeks teaching in the intermediate division. All I can say is GREAT! It truly has been a great experience so far. I feel a renewed sense of energy and excitement for teaching. It has been busy. I spend many evenings late at work as I did in my first years teaching - figuring out the perfect hook to kick-start a lesson, finding relevant and captivating materials for reading and inquiry, moderating with my wonderful teaching partners as I navigate assessment. I have loved every minute!

Why you ask? It's the kids! They have been so kind, so patient, so understanding. From the very first day when they walked into an empty classroom, they have had open minds and open hearts. We have created a cozy physical space where we all enjoy working and learning together. The wooden table and bench my grandpa made many years ago is perched under the window. It fills me with joy when I see students sitting at it side by side. I have made many funny errors - like saying "hocus pocus" waiting for them to say "everybody focus" back - a gimmick I used in the primary division. I have also started singing my primary prayer before lunch without realizing it (to my delight when a few of my students I taught in Grade 2 chimed right in with me). We just laugh and carry on. The days are very different from primary. I haven't tied any shoes, opened any lunch containers, put on a bandaid, or wiped any noses. I have, however, comforted and consoled, as I recognize that navigating the muddy waters of early adolescence isn't easy. Their troubles are many. Unlike primary students who are so quick to find you with the littlest question or concern, intermediates seem to hold their worries a little closer, a little tighter: making the building of relationships even more essential.

At our Spiritual Development day, Dr. Terry Johnson Nelson challenged us to "let the kids get to us". In staff rooms we often say and hear "they are really getting to me today". His response - GOOD! Fall in love with kids again, let them get to you. I have really tried to take this to heart. I have been honest with them - acknowledging that I will make many mistakes and I don't know all the answers, but together, we will learn and grow, and transform the world in small meaningful ways. The response has been positive!

So on this Thanksgiving day, I am grateful for my calling to be an educator. I feel so blessed to know deep down that I am doing each and every day what I am meant to do. It is not my job, my profession, to teach is my calling. I am so grateful for my students past and present; for being open to new challenges and learning opportunities. We have had our fair share of struggles throughout the years, but together we have gone great places! Thank you for getting to me, and allowing me to get you as well. We have much to be grateful for.