The teachers of Ray Lawson Public School in Brampton took teaching Math to a whole new level last year as they united in a school-wide professional learning project aimed at bringing best practices in mathematics to every classroom.
Led by Grade 6 teacher Jonathan So, the initiative was a Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP). Teachers engaged in targeted practices to improve student numeracy, problem-solving and communication strategies, while improving student engagement and confidence in Math.
These targeted teaching approaches included practicing math facts and processes, using rich, open-ended problems, accountable talk, probing questions, strategy-building, co-constructed criteria and descriptive feedback, So says.
“One of the best things about the TLLP is that it forced us out of comfort zones and had us trying new things and exploring things that we did not know before,” he says. “It was all applicable and useful to the classroom, because it was happening in the classroom. The best PD is useful PD.” All 20 teachers in the school participated in the PD sessions, which were led by a learning team of 10 teachers and So.
“We wanted to try to incorporate rich authentic problem solving tasks more regularly as part of the program,” So explains. “I wanted to give the students lots of time to learn how to use manipulatives effectively, to see different ways of recording solutions, time to practice and explain their thinking to others. This way, students will become more proficient at communicating their solutions.”
Key to the new approach was creating a bank of questions to probe students’ thinking. “The goal is to build good questioning and critical thinking as a staff and to understand how math is developed in students from K-5,” he explains.
Watch the video below, left to see So's Math class in action.
The Impact on Student Learning
The teachers found giving students real life problems, along with effective questions to consider, has had a positive impact on student engagement. “I'm so proud of how well our students can orally communicate their thinking now and explain their understanding to others,” So reports, adding that students' confidence in their Math abilities has also shown improvement. “I also find it incredible the learning that happens with seven-year-olds. The strategies and discoveries the students make and how they feed off each other is amazing.”
The greatest part of the project for So has been the collaborative aspect of planning and modifying teaching plans with his teaching partner. “Co-teaching and co-planning is the way to go. I loved doing this as a team.” He’s excited by how much he's learned in this year of teaching Math. “I have grown a lot in my understanding of the three-part lesson and the types of rich tasks that are appropriate for this kind of teaching and learning,” he says. “I have also learned how to effectively facilitate a math congress to consolidate student learning.”
- The importance of posing critical questions during the consolidation phase of lessons in order to enhance the learning experiences of the students and tap into their thinking process;
- The importance of following up with students; to use their conversations as assessment or to clarify what they were trying to communicate with their work;
- Setting aside time to moderate student work is essential. It is very helpful to hear student reflections on their work and processes as we continue to build strategies;
So has also marveled at how even when using the same lesson, two different sets of students can produce completely different responses. “As teachers we have to be prepared for these possible outcomes,” he admits.
Teacher Jennifer Foster says the TLLP process allowed the school's teaching team to co-plan, co-teach and moderate together. "We were able to draw on each other's strengths as educators and design an engaging lesson incorporating 21st Century learning and thinking," Foster says. "The experience highlighted the importance of collaboration on a daily basis and made us aware of all the little things that we do as educators that sometimes we forget we do that makes the difference in the thinking that our students are doing. The experience made us take further risks, and also increased our own confidence as teachers."
The process of going through the project also challenged teacher Keri Ewert to expand the digital learning opportunities she provides in the classroom, she says. "We strove to provide innovative Math lessons that promoted and enhanced critical thinking skills," she says. Providing authentic, meaningful problems to the students allowed them to develop critical thinking and collaborative communication skills, she says.
Having the time to plan, discuss, team teach and talk about how it went after class, have been key benefits to the project, according to teacher Heather Childs. "This project allowed my teaching partner and myself to try new problems, debrief and then approach the problem another way," she says. "I also learned a lot by watching students in other classes learn and have conversations in other teachers' classrooms," she says.
Looking Towards the Future
Coming together as a staff to talk about teaching practices openly and professionally has been very rewarding, he says. “As teachers we do have rich staff meetings yet there is seldom as much time as we would like for deep learning discussions,” he reports. “But this actually started to happen during this project. In addition, the learning and growth of the teachers was amazing. We went from a school that taught Math as individuals to a staff that has a common language, a common purpose, and for the most part, a common practice. The majority of our staff now uses problem solving as a primary teaching tool. The students are becoming better problem solvers, communicators, and critical thinkers.”
Going forward, the teaching team plans to continue to build on this success and seek out further opportunities for professional development in Math. “It would be great if we can continue to build this into our Collaborative Inquiries next year,” he says. “This year, the gift of time from the project helped us all grow as a school.”
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