Teaching Math Mastery in the International School Fourth Grade Classroom

” In this changing world, those who understand and can do mathematics will have significantly enhanced opportunities and options for shaping their futures. Mathematical competence opens doors to productive futures. A lack of mathematical competence keeps doors closed…All students should have the opportunity and the support necessary to learn significant mathematics with depth and understanding. There is no conflict between equity and excellence.” NCTM (200, p 50)

As an international school fourth grade teacher, I realize that I have 22 students of widely varying degrees of mathematical understanding. The following is a body of thought on how I approach teaching in my classroom.

I believe that each child  be encouraged to take control of their own mathematics learning. This means that I am to create an environment where students discuss findings, compare ideas, and peer tutor. In creating such an environment, I first need to develop a highly structured classroom with easy access to mathematical tools. The students need to develop relationships inside the classroom. I need to develop routines and habits that foster thinking. This is a constant work in progress that finds me tinkering to find small, incremental improvements that alone are not readily noticeable. The students need help each other without exception.

You need lots of math manipulatives.

Curriculum is to fit the student population. This means that school leaders must constantly investigate results to find trends in student math learning. Teachers are to understand reasoning behind decisions and differentiate expectations for each child. I strongly believe that mathematics teachers need support from school leaders. This includes regular, focused and differentiated professional development for mathematics instructors. School leaders must recognize and foster collaborative activities among teachers.

Students learn what the teacher teaches each day. They easily see when a teacher does not deeply understand mathematics instruction. I am a big believer that elementary school teachers need to support each other in explaining ideas that develop teacher ability. This means regular, intentional time for teachers to look over student work and to discuss ideas in how to teach a particular concept.

Assessment is an integral but not overwhelming management aspect. I tend to focus on a bevy of pre assessment strategies so that I can pinpoint my instruction and find a “just right” learning for each child. I teach students to constantly use reflective assessment tools that show and celebrate their “new, big, idea” from each day’s lesson. I post “exit slips” each day and make sure that exemplar posts are widely viewed.

I believe that technology plays an ever increasingly important role in the mathematics classroom. I am a huge fan of ViHart,  Khan Academy and Brainpop in helping me accelerate student understanding. I use these sites religiously. They are excellent tools in a differentiated mathematics classroom.

That is all for now.

Teachers,“How do you approach mathematics instruction in your classroom?”   Please feel free to comment below.

Good luck.

National Council of Mathematics (2000) Principles and standards for school mathematics Reston VA

“What are you going to focus on now that testing is over?”

#4thchat asks, “What are you going to focus on now that testing is over?”

This question makes me delighted that I am out of the US Public Schools’ system. My entire public school career loomed with the specter of school restructuring.  Thankfully, international schools generally do not put too much emphasis on standardized testing.

This one fact is a definitive improvement in quality of life. Fortunately, standardized tests are just a small piece of the assessment puzzle. Teaching without a looming threat of school de-certification really allows me to work on my craft.

Living overseas, I have been able to focus on learning-based curriculum. I still assess, however. My assessments are more for learning and not of learning. This has made all the difference. In short, my student assessments directly affect my teaching practice. They are more meaningful and viewed as more credible to all the stakeholders

International schools, from my experience, focus more on learning and not achievement. That said, we still spend some time with standardized testing. Mercifully, this time goes by quickly and we can go back to teaching the curriculum. This is a tremendous positive shift in my practice.

Reading today’s New York Times article further proves my point. Students are the losers in this game. Parents are rightfully scared that their kids will not get a proper education. Teachers must improve scores while not necessarily improving learning. This is inherently sad.

I will not try to offer solutions to the education reform movement. However, I offer that there are alternatives to the United States method of educating youth. I delight in the surge in online learning from Khan Academy. I connect students to Ted-Ed.com. I pay attention to folks such as Sir Ken Robinson, Punya Mishra and Sugata Mitra. I dream of a future where challenged based learning is the norm. I find myself energized by accomplishments of countries such as Finland.

If you are an American public school teacher, what are your thoughts on the standardized testing development?

Best of luck as you endure yet another year of high stakes testing.