Mathematics is an area of particular focus for our school. Our teachers have undergone significant professional development over the past four years in this curriculum area, and as a result of this pronounced shifts in student learning have been evident.
The starting point for our school approach is to avoid deficit thinking. If teachers start from a focus on what students’ can’t do and see themselves as fixing weaknesses and/or filling gaps in students’ knowledge in mathematics then teaching is likely to be less effective and counter-productive. As a result of this we promote a ‘can do’ attitude in our students. Our challenge is to help students learn multiple strategies to develop more powerful and accurate mathematical thinking.
Teaching Mathematics as an Inquiry
In order to achieve this we do not approach the teaching of the basic binary operations, proportions, fractions, and decimals as separate topics, but rather as inter-connected mathematical concepts that help us make sense of the world around us. Teachers therefore need to be able to design, select and sequence mathematical tasks that support the development of big ideas of mathematics rather than isolated strategies and skills.
Our teachers use their students’ existing thinking as a resource for learning. This requires an inquiry approach to teaching. Teaching needs to make connections to what students already know and to real life applications that make sense to students. Teachers are expected to implement a range of classroom practices that enable students’ to make their mathematical thinking and reasoning visible. Only then can the teacher (and peers) make connections to what students already know, their informal knowledge, and to real life applications that make sense to students.
Mixed Ability Grouping
Research has demonstrated that teaching practices that emphasise student interaction improve problem-solving and conceptual understanding in mathematics without loss of computational mastery. As a result of this a core part of our school wide approach is the use of mixed ability groupings in lessons.
Students of varying ability are grouped together to collaboratively solve problems. Rather than the teacher simply teaching how to use a specific formula or process, students are encouraged to think for themselves. They are encouraged to explore, share and present multiple ways of solving a problem rather than relying solely on one method. In doing so, they test and build upon each another’s mathematical reasoning as they arrive at potential solutions.
While the students are engaged in their discussions, the teacher monitors the learning that is taking place. As they identify students that need further support or extension, they will work with them in focused workshops aimed at modelling and scaffolding the learning to a point where the student can once again work with a measure of independence.
The aim of our school approach is to build students’ problem solving capabilities and equip them to think deeply about mathematical ideas and connections in authentic settings.