Tag Archives: primary classrooms

Using mathematical inquiry to make mathematics meaningful

At the moment I’m involved in a project with the Sydney Metro (Transport for NSW), currently the largest infrastructure project in Australia. When complete, the Sydney Metro project is going to change the way many Sydney residents work, live and socialise. My involvement with this project has required me to design, deliver and research the effectiveness of a professional learning program. In this program, teachers from all stages of schooling and a range of curriculum areas learn about using inquiry based learning and then design, implement and evaluate units of work that use the Sydney Metro project as the stimulus for inquiry.  So what’s that got to do with engaging maths? My work in this project has confirmed what I’ve always believed – contextualising learning makes mathematics (and other disciplines, of course) more meaningful, purposeful and relevant for students. It shifts the traditional approach of ‘just in case’ learning to ‘just in time learning’.

Using contexts from student’s lives, such as Sydney Metro, makes mathematics come alive. For example, some of the students participating in the inquiry based units are looking at the social implications of having a rail station constructed in their community where there previously wasn’t one. This inquiry provides a purpose for designing survey questions, collecting, representing and analysing data that has meaning and purpose. Others are looking at the engineering aspects of the project relating to the tunnelling that is currently underway. Some are working on design aspects relating to the trains themselves or the stations and some are looking at mapping – planning future metro lines, or timing (the system won’t have a timetable).

The possibilities are endless, but for these units of work (or indeed, any inquiry based unit of work) to be successful, the teachers planning them have to consider carefully the potential directions that students will take their inquiry if the units are to be true inquiry based learning that is driven by students’ interests. This requires a strong knowledge of curriculum and a willingness to hand over some control of the learning to the students. It may even involve the introduction of content beyond the students’ current grade.
Another consideration when planning inquiry units is the inclusion of other aspects of our curriculum, beyond content. For example, in mathematics we have the Proficiencies (Working Mathematically in NSW) that represent the processes of mathematics. It’s impossible to conduct inquiry based learning without these processes and inquiry learning is a perfect opportunity to develop, refine and show evidence of these processes. Then we have the General Capabilities. Again, inquiry based learning provides an opportunity to access mathematics while accessing these capabilities, enhancing the relevance of the learning.

Where do you find resources for inquiry? Take a look around at what is happening in your community, in the media, or simply the things that your students are interested in. Consider how those things could spark curiosity in your students (or how you could promote that curiosity within  your students). Model how to ask good questions (students need to know how to do this – it doesn’t always come naturally). Be prepared for it to get messy, search for resources that the students might need or help them find resources. Be prepared to teach a range of mathematical concepts as the need arises.

I’ll you with an example of a resource that I believe would be a great stimulus for inquiry – take a look, at let me know what you think! Every Drop Counts

Tips for beginning primary teachers: What’s in your maths toolbox?

If you’re an early career teacher, chances are you spend lots of your spare time looking for good maths resources. Some of you may have your own class, while others are beginning their careers as a relief teacher, having to move from one class to another, and often between different schools. Many teachers who are starting out have to build their toolbox of resources from nothing. Where do you begin? How can you develop a bank of activities that suits lots of different levels and abilities, and engages children of diverse abilities?

One of the first things I would recommend would be to invest in a small range of materials that allow you to implement some simple tasks that could then be expanded into interesting and worthwhile mathematical investigations. For example, if you purchase around ten sets of playing cards (go to a cheap two dollar store), you could learn a few basic games (Snap, Making 10, Playing with Place Value – see my book Engaging Maths: Exploring Number) that could then be differentiated according to the students you are teaching. A simple game of Making 10 could be used from Grade 1 all the way to Grade 6 by simply changing the rules.

Other materials that are a ‘must have’ for beginning teachers are dice and dominoes. There are many simple investigations that could lead from simple explorations with these materials. For example, use the dice to explore probability or play a game of Greedy Pig. Play a traditional game of dominoes before adding a twist to it, or simply ask students to sort the dominoes (students have to select their own criteria for sorting)– an interesting way to gain insight into students’ mathematical thinking and a great opportunity for using mathematical language. Once students have sorted the dominoes conduct an ‘art gallery tour’ and ask other students to see if they can work out how others have sorted out their dominoes. Photograph the sorting and display then on an Interactive Whiteboard for a whole class discussion and reflection…the list goes on!

Another ‘must have’ for beginning teachers is a bank of good quality resource books. Don’t fall into the trap of purchasing Black Line Masters or books full of worksheets to photocopy. You don’t want your students to be disengaged! Books such as my Engaging Maths series (http://engagingmaths.co/teaching-resources/books/ ), or any of Paul Swan’s books or resources (http://www.drpaulswan.com.au/resources/) are a great place to start. Explore some of the excellent free resources available online such as http://nrich.maths.org/teacher-primary and http://illuminations.nctm.org/, but do be aware that some resources produced outside of Australia will need to adapted for the Australian Curriculum: Mathematics.

In my research on student engagement, I found that students would remember what they would recall as a ‘good’ mathematics lesson for a very long period of time. In fact, some of the students in my PhD study talked about a ‘good’ mathematics lesson two years after it had taken place. Whether you are lucky enough to have your own class or have to begin your career as a relief teacher moving from class to class, you can make an impact on the students in your care and the way the view mathematics by being prepared with your ‘toolbox’ of engaging and worthwhile activities.

 

More tips for teachers: Essential materials for every mathematics classroom

What hands-on materials and resources do you have in your mathematics classroom?  Concrete materials, coupled with good teaching practice and strong teacher content knowledge, provide opportunities for learners to construct rich understandings of mathematical concepts. In addition, allowing opportunities for children to physically engage with materials can be much more meaningful than working only with visual or even digital representations, particularly when learners are still in the concrete phase of their learning about specific concepts. For example, if you’re teaching concepts relating to 3-dimensional space, it makes sense that it is better for children to be able to manipulate real objects in order to explore their properties and relate their learning to real-life, as opposed to exploring objects through graphical representations only. Concrete materials also promote the use of mathematical language, reasoning, and problem solving.

I’m often asked about the essential resources required for primary mathematics classrooms. There are quite a few, but if you have a limited budget or storage space, there are some resources that are what I would consider to be essential, regardless of the year level that you are teaching. My advice would be to invest in materials that are flexible and able to be used in a variety of ways, perhaps in conjunction with other materials. Also consider collecting things that are not necessarily intended as educational resources but may have some mathematical value, such as collections of things (keys, lids, plastic containers, etc.) for activities that require sorting and classifying. Here is a list of basics that can be purchased from educational resources suppliers (some of the items can also be sources at normal retail and/or discount stores):

  • Counters
  • Dice (as well as the standard six sided dice, you could purchase many other variations including blank dice)
  • Calculators (yes, these are great, even in the early years. Think about using them to investigate numbers rather than simply as , computational devices)
  • Base 10 material (be careful how you ‘name’ these – using terms like ones, tens, hundreds and thousands limits their use. It is best to use the terms minis, longs, flats and blocks so they can be used flexibly to teach a range of whole number and measurement concepts)
  • Measurement materials (you’ll need a range of things to cover all aspects of measurement, eg. scales, tape measures, rulers, )
  • Pattern blocks (great for more than just exploring 2D shape – these can be used to teach fractions, place value, area, perimeter etc.)
  • Dominoes (one of my truly favourite things!)
  • Playing cards
  • Unifix blocks
  • Paper shapes (circles, squares, etc.) to promote a range of concepts including fractions, shape, and measurement

Of course, any resource is only as good as the teacher using it and the way it is integrated into teaching and learning. Prior to using any concrete material or resource, consider the purpose of the lesson and the mathematical concepts being covered. Also consider how you can make the most out of those resources – how will you differentiate the task, and how will you capture evidence of learning? This is where technology can play a useful role and allow teachers and students to capture evidence when working with concrete materials. Technology can also be used alongside concrete materials. For example, work with pattern blocks can be recorded using the Pattern Block App on an iPad. Or students could integrate their use of concrete materials with a verbal reflection or explanation using the Explain Everything app.

The best way to get the most out of concrete materials is to do some reading. There are many high quality resource books and there are also many great websites such as NCTM Illuminations that provide excellent teaching ideas. Once you see the potential of high quality, flexible concrete materials such as those listed above, your students will become much more engaged with mathematics and will develop deeper conceptual understandings.

And one last thing…students are never too old or too smart to benefit from hands-on materials so never keep them locked away in a cupboard or storeroom (the materials, not the students)! Students should feel they can use concrete materials when and if they need them. After all, we want our students to be critical, creative mathematicians, and hands-on materials assist learning, and promote flexibility in thinking and important problem solving skills.

Tips for Teachers: Critical ingredients for a successful mathematics lesson

What are the ingredients for an effective mathematics lesson? Teachers are continually faced with a range of advice or ideas to improve their mathematics lessons and often this just creates confusion. It’s a little bit like being a cook. New recipes appear online and in cookbooks on bookstore shelves, but often they’re just adaptations of classic recipes that have been around before, their foundation ingredients are tried and tested, and often evidence based. There are always the staple ingredients and methods that are required for the meal to be successful.

The following is a list of what I consider to be important ingredients when planning and teaching an effective mathematics lesson. The list (or recipe) is split into two parts: lesson planning and lesson structure.

Lesson planning:

  • Be clear about your goal. What exactly do you want your students to learn in this lesson? How are you going to integrate mathematical content with mathematical processes? (The proficiencies or Working Mathematically components) Will you consider the General Capabilities in your planning?
  • Know the mathematics. If you don’t have a deep understanding of the mathematics or how students learn that aspect of mathematics, how can you teach it effectively? Where does the mathematics link across the various strands within the mathematics curriculum?
  • Choose good resources. Whether they are digital or concrete materials, make sure they are the right ones for the job. Are they going to enhance students’ learning, or will they cause confusion? Be very critical about the resources you use, and don’t use them just because you have them available to you!
  • Select appropriate and purposeful tasks. Is it better to have one or two rich tasks or problems, or pages of worksheets that involve lots of repetition? Hopefully you’ve selected the first option – it is better to have fewer, high quality tasks rather than the traditional worksheet or text book page. You also need to select tasks that are going to promote lots of thinking and discussion.
  • Less is more. We often overestimate what students will be able to do in the length one lesson. We need to make sure students have time to think, so don’t cram in too many activities.
  • You don’t have to start and finish a task in one lesson. Don’t feel that every lesson needs to be self-contained. Children (and adults) often need time to work on complex problems and tasks – asking students to begin and end a task within a short period of time often doesn’t give them time to become deeply engaged in the mathematics. Mathematics is not a race!

Lesson Structure:

  • Begin with a hook. How are you going to engage your students to ensure their brains are switched on and ready to think mathematically from the start of each lesson? There are lots of ways to get students hooked into the lesson, and it’s a good idea to change the type of hook you use to avoid boredom. Things like mathematically interesting photographs, YouTube clips, problems, newspaper articles or even a strategy such as number busting are all good strategies.
  • Introduction: Make links to prior learning. Ensure you make some links to mathematics content or processes from prior learning – this will make the lesson more meaningful for students and will reassure anxious students. Use this time to find out what students recall about the particular topic – avoid being the focus of attention and share the lesson with students. Talk about why the topic of the lesson is important – where else does it link within the curriculum, and beyond, into real life?
  • Make your intentions clear. Let students know what they’re doing why they’re doing it. How and where is knowing this mathematics going to help them?
  • Body: This is a good time for some collaboration, problem solving and mathematical investigation. It’s a time to get students to apply what they know, and make links to prior learning and across the mathematics curriculum. This is also a time to be providing differentiation to ensure all student needs are addressed.
  • Closure: This is probably the most important time in any mathematics lesson. You must always include reflection. This provides an opportunity for students to think deeply about what they have learned, to make connections, and to pose questions. It’s also a powerful way for you, the teacher, to collect important evidence of learning. Reflection can be individual, in groups, and can be oral or written. It doesn’t matter, as long as it happens every single lesson.

There are many variables to the ingredients for a good mathematics lesson, but most importantly, know what and how you are teaching, provide opportunities for all students to achieve success, and be enthusiastic and passionate about mathematics!

Tips for Parents: Helping Your Child Succeed with Mathematics

As another new school year approaches, parents are once again busy preparing their children to ensure they have the things they need to be successful. School uniforms, books, pens and pencils are important, but what’s even more important is the preparation and support parents can provide to help their children learn and be happy at school.

We often see and hear media reports that lament Australia ‘falling behind’ other countries when it comes to mathematics.  Unfortunately, some people think it’s okay to be bad at maths and sadly, many children develop anxiety around mathematics from a young age. Maths seems to be a problem.

Is there something you, as a parent, can do to help? Relying on teachers alone can’t fix the problem.  There are many things parents can do to help their children learn, understand, and appreciate mathematics  before they begin school and during the  school years. The following is a list of tips for parents that will help them to help their children succeed:

  1. Be positive about maths!

May people openly claim they don’t like maths or they’re not good at it, unintentionally conveying the message that this is okay. Unfortunately, this can have a detrimental effect on the children who hear these messages. In my research on student engagement, children whose parents made similar comments often used the same comments as mathematics became more challenging during the high school years. These behaviours can lead to children opting to stop trying and drop out of mathematics as soon as they can, ultimately limiting their life choices.

As a parent, be conscious of displaying positive attitudes towards mathematics, even when it’s challenging. Adopting what is referred to as a ‘growth mindset’ allows children (and parents) to acknowledge that mathematics is challenging, but not impossible. Rather than saying “I can’t do it” or “it’s too hard”, encourage statements such as “I can’t do it yet” or “let’s work on this together”. If you’re struggling with the mathematics yourself, and finding it difficult to support your child, there are options such as free online courses like Jo Boaler’s YouCubed website (www.youcubed.org), apps such as Khan Academy, or you can seek help from their child’s teacher.

If you choose to use a tutor to help your child, make sure it’s a tutor who knows how to teach for understanding, rather than memorisation. Too often tutoring colleges use the traditional teaching method of drill and practice, which won’t help a struggling student to understand important mathematical concepts. Find a tutor who understands the curriculum and can tailor a program to work alongside what your child is learning at school.

  1. Developing a positive working relationship with teachers

It’s important for parents to work with their child’s teacher to ensure they are able to support the learning of mathematics. This will help the teacher understand the child’s needs and be better able to support the child in the classroom, while at the same time helping the parents support the child at home. Often schools hold information evenings or maths workshops to help explain current teaching methods with few parents turning up. It’s important to attend these events as they are a good opportunity to learn ways to help children with mathematics at home.

  1. Know what maths your child is learning

Mathematics teaching and learning has changed significantly over the last few decades. Unfortunately, many of the older generations still expect children to be learning the same maths in the same way, regardless of how much the world has changed! Access to the mathematics curriculum is free to everyone. Parents have the opportunity to find out what their child should be learning simply by accessing the curriculum online, or talking to their child’s teacher. This can help parents who may have unrealistic expectations of what their child should know and be able to do, and will also help them understand that mathematics is not just about numbers or learning the multiplication tables.

One of the most common complaints when it comes to school mathematics is that children don’t ‘know’ their multiplication tables. Is this important? Yes, it’s still important that children gain fluency when dealing with numbers. However, it’s also important that we don’t just rely on rote learning, or repetition. Children need to understand how the numbers work. In other words, they need to be numerate, and have a flexibility with numbers. Once they understand, then fluency can be built. Using maths games is a good way of getting children to build up speed with number facts.

  1. Make maths part of everyday activities

Bring maths into daily conversations and activities with your child. After all, there’s maths in everything we do. For example, if you’re cooking you might ask your child to help you measure out ingredients. If you’re shopping, you could have a little competition to see who can make the best estimation of the total grocery bill or perhaps ask your child to work out the amount of change (this may be challenging given that we use credit cards most of the time).

If your child likes to play digital games, download some maths apps so they can use their screen time to learn while having fun at the same time. Alternatively, traditional games can provide opportunities to talk about maths and help your child. Games that use dominoes and playing cards are great for young children as are board games such as Snakes and Ladders or Monopoly. Even non-numerical games such as Guess Who have benefits for mathematics because the promote problem solving and strategic thinking, important mathematical skills.

Parents who can work with their child’s teacher, be proactive in their child’s education, and demonstrate positive attitudes towards mathematics can make a big difference to their child’s success at school. It’s an investment worth making.

 

 

Teaching kids about maths using money can set them up for financial security

File 20171020 1082 atxtty.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1Shutterstock

Catherine Attard, Western Sydney University

As the world of finance becomes more complex, most of us aren’t keeping up. In this series we’re exploring what it means to be financially literate.


One of the most common complaints children have about learning maths is its lack of relevance to their lives outside school. When they fail to see the importance of maths to their current and future lives, they often lose interest.

This results in opting out of mathematics study as soon as they can, and proclaiming they are “not good at maths”.

Financial literacy – learning about budgeting, saving, investing and basic financial decision making – taught by both parents and teachers can help keep them engaged.

Three strategies for teachers

The Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers promote the teaching of financial literacy through maths with the help of contemporary teaching and learning resources that reflect students’ interests. These include lesson plans, units of work, children’s literature, and interactive digital resources such as games.

A wide range of resources are available from websites such as MoneySmart and Financial Literacy Australia. These are an excellent way to begin teaching financial literacy concepts, with some units of work specifically designed with a mathematics focus. However, these units can and should be adjusted to suit the specific needs of the students in your classroom.

Additionally, teachers should consider using resources that are familiar to students’ everyday lives. These could include items that are in the news media, shopping catalogues, television commercials etc. Keep watch for interesting photographs or misleading advertisements. They are great for starting discussions about maths. Questions such as “is this really a good deal?”, “what is the best deal?” or even “what mathematics do we need to know and understand to work out if this advertisement is offering a bargain?” could begin discussions.

There are also a range of apps that could be used alongside maths and financial literacy explorations, including budgeting apps and supermarket apps such as TrackMySpend, Smart Budget, or My Student Budget Planner . If you like using picture books to introduce and teach concepts, the Money & Stuff website has an extensive list of books relating to financial literacy.

The money connection

One way to improve engagement with mathematics is for schools to teach it in ways that children are familiar with. Most children are familiar with money, and many are already consumers of financial services from a young age. Research has found that it’s not uncommon for children to have accounts with access to online payment facilities or to use mobile phones during the primary school years. It’s clear that financial literacy and mathematics skills would be beneficial when using such products.

Financial education programs for young people can be essential in nurturing sound financial knowledge and behaviour in students from a young age. Using real-life contexts involving financial literacy can help children learn a range of mathematical concepts and numeracy skills like lending and borrowing, budgeting, and interest rates. They are more likely to remember and understand what they have learned because they applied mathematics to something they’re interested in and something that they can use in their lives.

Research into the teaching of financial literacy combined with mathematics in primary schools shows how important it is for all children to understand the importance and value of money and recognise the maths that underpins consumer and financial literacy.

They also need to engage in real world projects and investigations relating to consumer and financial literacy to understand how mathematics is applied in everyday decisions that could influence life opportunities.

Shopping is a teaching opportunity for parents

Many young children don’t understand where money comes from. It’s important that they begin to develop some understanding of how our economy works, even from a young age. Research has found a pattern emerging where children whose parents talk to them about money develop an earlier understanding of its importance. They are also provided with more opportunities to deal with making decisions about money.

If you have young children in primary school, it’s a great time to start their financial literacy and mathematics education. There are plenty of opportunities when you are out shopping to include your child in discussions and decisions where appropriate, or explain the financial decisions you make on their behalf. Talk about the mathematics involved in financial decision-making. Where possible, encourage children to make their own financial decisions with things like pocket money or savings. If you feel you need to improve your own financial literacy first, there are many resources available for adults.

The ConversationTeaching children about money through mathematics helps children learn. It helps them use mathematics in real-life scenarios and, more importantly, can help set them up for future financial security.

Catherine Attard, Associate Professor, Mathematics Education, Western Sydney University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

Technology in the classroom can improve primary mathematics

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There’s much more to mathematics than computation, and that’s where more contemporary technologies can improve primary mathematics.
Shutterstock

Catherine Attard, Western Sydney University

Many parents are beginning to demand less technology use in the primary classroom due to the amount of screen time children have at home. This raises questions about whether technology in the classroom helps or hinders learning, and whether it should be used to teach maths.

Blaming the calculator for poor results

We often hear complaints that children have lost the ability to carry out simple computations because of the reliance on calculators in primary schools. This is not the case. In fact, there has been very little research conducted on the use of calculators in classrooms since the 80’s and 90’s because they are not a significant feature of primary school maths lessons. When calculators are used in primary classrooms, it’s usually to help children develop number sense, to investigate number patterns and relationships, or to check the accuracy of mental or written computation.

There is also evidence that children become more flexible in the way they compute through the use of calculators. It allows them to apply their knowledge of place value and other number related concepts rather than using a traditional algorithm.

The Australian Curriculum promotes a strong focus on the development of numeracy, including the development of estimation and mental computation. These are skills that children need in order to use calculators and other technologies efficiently.

The curriculum also promotes the thinking and doing of mathematics (referred to as “proficiencies”) rather than just the mechanics. There’s much more to mathematics than computation. That’s where more contemporary technologies can improve primary mathematics.

The importance of technology in learning maths

The use of digital technologies in the primary mathematics classroom is not an option. The Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority (ACARA) has made it mandatory for teachers to incorporate technologies in all subject areas. Fortunately, schools have access to more powerful, affordable devices than ever before. Importantly, these are the same devices that many children already have access to at home, providing an opportunity to bridge the gap between the mathematics at school and their lives outside the classroom.

Literature around digital technologies and mathematics suggest new technologies have potentially changed teaching and learning, providing opportunities for a shift of focus from a traditional view to a more problem-solving approach. This notion is supported by research that claims the traditional view of mathematics that was focused on memorisation and rote learning is now replaced with one that has purpose and application.

When used well, technology can improve student engagement with mathematics and assists in improving their understanding of mathematical concepts.

In a recent research evaluation of the Matific digital resources, the findings were positive. The students found that they enjoyed using the digital resource on iPads and computers, and went from thinking about mathematics as something to be tolerated or endured to something that is fun to learn. An added bonus was that the children voluntarily started to use their screen time at home to do maths. Pre- and post-test data also indicated that the use of the technology contributed to improved mathematics results.

How technology is used in the classroom

Many would consider that the use of mobile devices in maths would consist of simple game playing. A search of the App Store reveals tens of thousands of supposedly educational maths games, creating a potential app trap for teachers who might spend hours searching through many low- quality apps. Although playing games can have benefits in terms of building fluency, they don’t usually help children learn new concepts. Luckily, there’s much that teachers can and are doing with technology.

The following are some of the different ways teachers are using technology:

Show and tell apps, such as Explain Everything, EduCreations or ShowMe, allow students to show and explain the solution to a mathematical problem using voice and images

– Flipped learning, where teachers use the technology to replace traditional classroom instruction. YouTube videos or apps that provide an explanation of mathematical concepts are accessed by students anywhere and anytime

– Subscription based resource packages such as Matific which provide interactive, game-based learning activities, allow the teacher to set activities for individual students and keep track of student achievement

– Generic apps (camera, Google Earth, Google Maps, Geocaching) that allow students to explore mathematics outside the classroom.

The ConversationJust as the world has changed, the mathematics classroom has also changed. Although technology is an integral part of our lives, it shouldn’t be the only resource used to teach maths. When it comes to technology in the classroom, it’s all about balance.

Catherine Attard, Associate Professor, Mathematics Education, Western Sydney University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

For a list of maths apps, click here:

iPad apps and Mathematics 2015