Monthly Archives: October 2010

The bus stops here



Earlier this year, I posted about some challenges and frustrations I was having with the way I, my team and my school was going about the teaching of Mathematics.

To summarise:

“We teach Contiki Tour Maths”, I proclaim.

I go on to explain. “The way we teach maths is just like travelling on a Contiki Tour. We climb on a bus, travel around, take a look round and the good stuff and before you know it, we jump back on and move on to the next town. That’s how we teach Maths. We pick a topic, do stuff with it for two weeks then move onto the next topic.”

Through Twitter and other online reading, I discovered the work of Dan Myer through the TED Talk Videos. His post on developing good problems provided me with a good starting point.

I shared Dan’s work with my numeracy coach and used the opportunity to discuss and reflect on what I was finding.

This lead to the creation of the Dog’s Breakfast Project. Using the Xtranromal online video editing software, she created a video to engage students with the topic. The multimedia engaged students in the task and featured a great deal of data required to solve the problem. This lead to talking about what information matters (also mentioned in Dan Myer’s work)

The tasks were presented to students in the form of a menu. Students were required to complete mandatory components, other sections required students to select from a range of tasks whilst other tasks were option. This allowed students who experience difficult with maths to still experience success and exit the task at a point they felt comfortable with whilst those who excel at maths were provided with additional challenges.  

The task also featured a rubric that made explicit to students the expectations of the task and what they were being assessed on.

Instead of getting “the answer” the focus was on the process. Many of what we would have considered our best maths students really struggled with this concept. When we asked them to explain how they got the answer common responses were “I just did it” or some form of grunted responses “Ehh-Ha-Huh” that was the equivalent of “I don’t know”

What we learnt from this process though was the need to scaffold the students through the process. This approach was a big change for us as teachers but also for our students who had become used to our style of teaching. Additional projects we have undertaken now include graphic organisers and templates to assist students with recording the information. It is our hope that over time we can remove these tools from the task and have students develop their own means to record and collect data.

What I’m  loving about the way we have changed our teaching is that it now encompasses so much more. The work we are doing is based on ‘real-world’ problem solving. No longer are we touching on a ‘topic’ in an isolated 2 week block, never to be touched again until it comes up again in the 2 year cycle. I’m enjoying the teaching of mathematics so much more and I can see my enthusiasm transferring across to my students.

We still have a long way to go. Creating such projects is not a simple task – No longer can we open up our Teacher Resource BLM book and pick out activities that explore a topic. That said, some tasks in these books do assist in providing a starting point; it’s the process of finding the problem and taking it that extra step further into a richer task that is the challenge for us; one that I’m sure we will improve at over time and with experience.

The Contiki Tour bus stops here.