Very early this morning — at a time when most of the population was still sleeping 🙂 — I was having a private conversation on Twitter with Doug Peterson about math. I happened to read Doug’s blog today about the posts that he would be discussing with Stephen Hurley and Diana Maliszewski on VoicEd Radio, and I noticed that the first post was one that he had discussed before. Doug mentioned that he wanted to hear Diana’s thoughts about when students start to “hate” math, and when they start to think that they are not “good” at math. In our discussion, I said, “It’s not in Kindergarten,” and while my initial intention was just to blog about why not, listening to the VoicEd radio recording, has me thinking beyond this.
As many of my blog readers know, I have taught in primary — and particularly in Kindergarten — for most of my career, but I’ve also taught all of the other grades from grades 1-6 in some capacity. By teaching these different grades — and at times, the same children in multiple grades — I’ve seen how student attitudes and skills vary as they get older. Just as Diana mentioned in the recording today about EQAO data on primary students’ attitudes towards reading versus junior students’, I think that I’ve noticed similar trends in attitudes towards math. It was as I thought about this that I remembered a great conversation with a high school student at camp this summer. At the end of the summer, this student volunteered to help out with some cleaning and packing up of materials. One of the many jobs that I needed help with was storing over 400 popsicles and ice cream sandwiches in the freezer for campers and their families. We had a small number of freezers and lots of boxes of goodies. How was I supposed to do this? This volunteer made the impossible, possible. One of the greatest things about this was the math conversation that happened as a result.
This high school @HWDSBCampPower volunteer told me that he was “bad at math.” Look at this spatial awareness. He told me that he was “great at puzzles” as a kid. Really problem solved to maximize the area. Wow! We need to help kids understand all of the intricacies of math. pic.twitter.com/ArwQ3GdbxG
— Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca) August 17, 2018
Here’s a student that self-identified as “bad at math,” but I can guarantee you that he has better spatial awareness skills than I do. He was amazed to hear from me though that what he did here was “math.” I think about the Kindergarten Program Document, and how we “notice and name” math behaviours in the everyday. This doesn’t mean that we don’t teach or reinforce specific skills, but we …
- help students see the numerous math concepts that they’re already exploring through play.
- get students to think mathematically about their world.
- encourage students to figure out how to approach and solve problems.
And these are all things that are not just for Kindergarten. Imagine if this student that’s “great at puzzles” begins to see himself as a “mathematician.”
- Does this mean that he might be willing to stick with other, more challenging components of math?
- What if these more challenging areas were presented to him within the context of something that he better understands?
- How might this change his attitude towards math and his application of mathematical skills?
I realize that expectations become more complex as students progress through the grades, but as someone who could only hope to ever pack a freezer as this student did, I wish that he knew just how “good” he is at math. Don’t you?