When A Passing Comment Leads To A Light Bulb Moment

At the end of last week, I had the opportunity to attend and present at the OTF – Teaching Math Through Problem Solving Conference. After my two presentations, I attended a water cooler session, where I got to sit down with Matthew Oldridge, Royan Lee, and various conference goers to talk about math. This was an informal conversation that touched the most on pedagogical documentation, the learning environment, and how we plan the most effectively for kids. 

I share all of this because my greatest aha moment happened at the beginning of this conversation and before most people arrived. Our water cooler talk was right next door to Jon Orr‘s incredibly popular session, and at first, the only people coming into our room were doing so in order to grab chairs to move next door. This gave Matthew, Mary-Kay Goindi (she helped directionally challenged me find my way to the right room 🙂 ), and I, a few quiet moments to talk. 

The three of us are quite a diverse group of educators. I teach Kindergarten, Matthew supports math educators from Kindergarten to Grade 12, and Mary-Kay is a K-8 teacher librarian, who also teaches Grade 8 math. We don’t appear to have much in common. Our conversation proved otherwise. 

During our talk about math, we started to discuss patterning. I can’t quite remember how this topic came up, but it did. When Mary-Kay started to talk about AB patterns, I was about to mention the simplicity of these types of patterns, and how we encourage students to move from them to more complicated patterns (e.g., ABB or ABBA ones). And then she made the comment that led to my light bulb moment: the important learning that comes from these types of patterns is when students begin to realize that there are the same number of one colour or object as the other one. Just like in ABB patterns, they see that there are twice as many of one colour or object as another one. Of course! This is how patterning connects to algebra (mic drop). In all of my years teaching elementary math, I always emphasized the repetitive nature of patterns … but Mary-Kay’s passing comment made me realize that there’s even bigger learning that comes from patterns.

I’m now starting to think about the questions that we ask around patterning. 

  • What if we helped students see these number relationships instead?
  • What value might this have for them initially and in the long run?

All of a sudden, I see a much stronger connection between patterning and number sense, and I’m re-evaluating how I approach and respond to patterning in the classroom. I can’t wait to talk to my teaching partner about this as we look ahead to next year. 

This experience on Thursday reminded me about the importance of connecting with educators from all grade levels and disciplines. I can’t help but think about my “one word” — perspective — and the value in conversing with people who share different perspectives. You never know when, or from whom, you’re going to learn something new. I wonder how we make these kinds of cross-grade learning opportunities more prevalent at a school and Board level. What have you tried? How has it worked? If we’re open to it — and take that important “learning stance” — I think there’s a lot of potential here. What do you think?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *