about Teaching Students to Think, Not Compute
Recently, I had the opportunity to remove my administrator (and former reading specialist) hat to awaken my inner mathematician. I attended a three-day math conference in Worcester, Mass., where I had the privilege of working with two brilliant mathematicians and educators, one from the United States and one from Singapore.
Though I had always considered myself to be a strong mathematician, I was nervous when we were presented with problems ranging from division of mixed fractions to calculating the area of a polygon. It seems that some of those formulas and algorithms had escaped from my working memory. But I discovered that there are multiple ways to attack these problems, and struggling with them without the benefit of a rule or formula empowered me to make new discoveries about mathematics on my own. My instructor did not rob me of this opportunity to unearth a new strategy by providing step-by-step directions. I have always believed that the role of mathematics education is to teach students to think, not simply compute. My experience at this workshop solidified this belief for me.
about Creating Math Problem-Solvers
Every once in a while, a parent will ask, “Why does my child have to learn about number lines (arrays, partial sums) when she already knows how to carry and borrow (or multiply two-digit numbers) using the traditional algorithm?”
Fair question. My response has always been that while procedural knowledge and fact fluency play significant roles in mathematics, conceptual knowledge and the ability to manipulate numbers in a variety of ways lead to greater competency. Our goal is to lead our students to be flexible, efficient, and proficient problem-solvers.
about Understanding the Whole-Brain Child
Even though I had already read Tina Payne Bryson’s book, The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind, from cover to cover, I found myself feverishly taking notes during her presentation to faculty last Wednesday. Here’s what resonated with me: We must chase the “why.” If our students aren’t doing well, we have to ask why. How do we expand their capacity to access learning and make decisions that will lead to their success?
The metaphor of building a staircase between the upstairs and downstairs brain made such sense to me. I had a conversation with a student on Friday who had not made a wise choice. Luckily, I caught myself before blurting out, “What were you thinking when you did that?” Dr. Bryson’s words reminded me that children know when they’ve made a poor decision. Instead, we must acknowledge that they know what they did was wrong and ask them, “What is your plan moving forward?”
about A Walk in the Rainforest
Whenever I'm having a particularly frenetic or stressful day, I find my way into a kindergarten classroom. Last Wednesday was one of those days. On that particular day, the children in Ms. Steiner's class were abuzz with excitement. First of all, it was Ms. Kettler's birthday, and they were putting the finishing touches on their special birthday cards while licking frosting from the birthday cupcakes. And as it turns out, it also happened to be the day of the much-anticipated Rainforest Play. Rolls of scotch tape were being shuttled around the room so the performers could tape their carefully crafted costumes to their bodies: skinny orange tails marked with black spots, ornate butterfly wings, jaguar ears, colorful poison darts, and, of course, blue water for the river. Once everyone was ready, Ms. Steiner introduced the animals, who then gathered on the rug. (This was Ms. Steiner's only role in the event, mind you. The children planned and collaborated on the play during their "Center Time.")
about Small Moments in Lower School
One of the things I enjoy most about being around Lower School children is hearing their stories: stories about catching 40 fish in one day, or taking the training wheels off a bicycle for the first time, or “accidentally” stepping in that huge puddle during Woodland Recess. Children have many stories to tell, and our job as educators is to help them do this well. When children begin to write authentic stories about those everyday events that are important to them, we call them “Small Moments.”
In kindergarten, small moment stories begin with elaborate sketches, which are later accompanied by sentences that match their pictures. In first and second grades, students practice telling their stories across three fingers or five fingers and then record these stories by stretching their writing across several pages. Once they have the bones of their story, they learn to elaborate by adding descriptive details, dialogue and internal thought. By the time our students reach third grade, the process becomes more sophisticated. Third graders construct “Personal Narratives” that evolve from a timeline. They hone their craft by experimenting with interesting leads and the “show, don’t tell” strategy.