Thursday, January 19, 2012

Departmental Ruminations

My school's math department runs from the elementary school all the way through the high school. That's very interesting, because it's gotten me thinking beyond my own classroom about the end-to-end process of math education. For example, recently we discussed the issue of what we want math teaching to look like in the elementary school, in order to boost student understanding in the middle and high schools. That discussion revolved around not just what topics should be taught, but also what elementary school assessments should look like, which rote methods (such as the lattice method of multiplication) should be avoided, which traditional concepts/skills emphasized, etc. For example, I feel quite strongly that kids need to be able to multiply 1 digit by 2 digit numbers in their heads by the end of Grade 5. They should also be able to add two multi-digit numbers in their heads from left to right. If they cannot do those things, their estimation skills suffer and it can affect their overall number sense, or at least reflect a lack thereof. But, anyway, our departmental discussion got me thinking about other cross-grade improvement/coordination possibilities (which could apply at any school, not just ours).

* We could develop a clear calculator policy. When (at what grade) do we transition over to using calculators instead of calculating manually? What calculator skills should be taught in what grades, in order to ensure a comprehensive exposure?

* We could develop and maintain writing samples and rubrics for analytical/applied mathematics at all grades. We have MYP and IB rubrics that we have adopted, but I think the writing samples can be a nice addition. Ideally, each kid would carry a math writing portfolio around with them from grade to grade, to showcase their growth on the rubric over time. As part of their math portfolios, they'd reflect on their own growth in understanding the flexible use of mathematics.

* This idea came up about making a Celebrating Math Week that spans the entire school. We could all coordinate projects to happen around the same time in our math classes, and the kids would present their results on an evening when their parents are invited.

* I would love for all the teachers to sit down and have a thoughtful discussion about scope and sequence, across the grades.

* We can encourage more interaction between grades. For example, we can get 8th-graders to conference with 7th-graders about their projects, to offer objective feedback on how clear the written explanations are to someone who's not already familiar with the mathematical task. Similar cooperation can happen at the high-school level, with Grade 12's giving Grade 11's advice about preparing for the IB exams.

These are some ideas I have so far. I'd love to tackle one or more of these things next year, if I could drum up some support...

Have you had success doing department-wide improvement projects? What other ideas do you have?


  1. Can't offer suggestions or ideas for this one, since my school's entire math department is three teachers, and so the decision process is short and immediate and almost always favorable.

    For next year, I'd like to start a school-run CAS project such as a math circle, in which kids get the opportunity to explore mathematical problems which are outside/beyond their curriculum. But that decision is made by the head of school.

    I am interested in your experience of working with MYP and DP. In the fall, my school is expanding from DP only to include all three levels. This means I have the opportunity, if I want it, to teach MYP maths as well as DP. I'd really like to hear about your experiences of teaching MYP and DP both but maybe this isn't the right forum? My email: firstname.lastname at gmail dot com. If you'd like to share some thoughts I'd be much obliged.

  2. I really like teaching MYP, because it allows for a lot more flexibility on the teacher in terms of pacing and bringing in projects-based teaching. In the IB I feel that we are always pressed for time, and there is a lot of pressure on the kids (especially those who do not have solid skills foundations from past years), and therefore in turn, there is a lot of pressure on the teachers to move at a brisk pace. But, I don't currently teach MYP Grade 10, which means I don't supervise any MYP personal projects (which can be a significant amount of work), so I cannot speak to that part of the MYP curriculum. I do teach grades 7, 8, 9 in the MYP, and I think it's lovely. Relatively little grading, pretty holistic philosophy, but still with academic rigor because the kids know we are preparing them for the IB.

    And, personally, I love the challenge of dealing with kids as young as Grade 7 and as old as Grade 12 all in one day. They're just so emotionally different that you never get bored!

  3. Wow, that sounds just as I was hoping it'd be. Thanks!