Friday, 24 February 2017

The Mathematics of Hope

I am delighted we are putting fresh energy into whole school maths professional development. We have engaged Louise Miller from Cognition Education to be our lead facilitator with a staff team in support.

For NZ teachers, maths teaching and learning has been confused via the numeracy project. Within the numeracy programme there is much to be lauded but it is definitely time to take stock and consider what is working and what is not. Teachers need to follow their gut intuition and use teacher inquiry to gather information, build on their findings and become passionate explorers of the most effective teaching methodologies that build confidence with their children.

As a staff we are being led through a series of key best practice principles of maths teaching supported by a range of research. In Jo Boaler’s article, The Mathematics of Hope   (see below for website link) she talks about how “mathematics, more than any other subject, has the power to crush students’ confidence.” Boaler refers to a myth historically propagated in classrooms that some people are naturally good at maths and others are not. She says “That this idea is strangely cherished in the western world but virtually absent in Eastern countries such as China and Japan.”

New scientific evidence shows the incredible capacity of the brain to change, rewire, and grow in a really short time (Maguire et al. 2006) suggesting all students can learn mathematics to a high level. “Students can grasp high level concepts but they will not develop the brain connections that allow them to do so if they are given low-level work and negative messages about their own potential.” (Boaler and Foster 2014)

Research has also recently shown something stunning—when students make a mistake in maths, their brain grows, synapses fire, and connections are made; when they do the work correctly, there is no brain growth (Moser et al. 2011). This finding suggests that we want students to make mistakes in maths class and that students should not view mistakes as learning failures but as learning achievements (Boaler 2013a).  When students struggle with mathematics, their brains grow; being outside their comfort zone is an extremely important place to be.

This Mathematics of Hope article is just one of many our staff are reading and discussing. Some of the ideas are challenging us to make significant changes to our teaching and learning. It is an exciting ride and just shows, ‘we are learning too!’  We as a staff are modelling that we are life-long learners searching for best practice to make a real difference for our students.

The key advice to teachers in the article is summed up in this diagram.

Frequent timed tests
Number conversations
Diagnostic feedback
Speed emphasis
Time to think slowly and deeply
Ability groupings
Heterogeneous and flexible groupings

Boaler says that currently three fifth of USA students fail maths and that it is a harshly inequitable subject. She argues that when the USA classrooms change—when students are encouraged to believe they can be successful in maths and are taught using the high quality teaching methods they deserve, the landscape for maths success will change forever.

This goes for NZ as well and we are very motivated to make a difference for our students. I do encourage you to read Dr J. Boaler’s article.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Homework-The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

A number of researchers are saying homework makes no difference to primary school students’ achievement. If anything it helps bright children the most and for the others, it just reminds them that they cannot do a task. Some academics argue that there is zero evidence supporting the idea it teaches time-management skills.

There is no doubt in my mind that homework can be very stressful and destructive when it just amounts to ‘busy work’ that intrudes on family time or is not differentiated for the varying ability levels so mum or dad are pressured to step in and do the homework for their child.

Highly regarded education professor, John Hattie says the thing he detests the most about homework is ‘long term’ projects as in many cases, all this does is measure the parent’s skill.

So what’s the good news! Consistent parent feedback over many, many years suggests that children who make the transition into college well do so because they have sound work and study skills helping to boost their self efficacy. Their experience of good work routines and a work ethic have given them ‘a head start’ at college. The positive outcomes of appropriately pitched homework include work and study skill development such as time management and learner agency benefits.

Homework can be a parent’s ‘window’ into their child’s strengths and needs as a learner.  Fostering learning should be a shared role between home and school providing children with ‘life-long’ learning skills.

The reality is we are living in an age where learning is ubiquitous. This is often simply defined as learning anywhere, anytime and is therefore closely associated with mobile technologies. Learning doesn't stop and start at the classroom door and when homework is ‘pitched’ appropriately both in terms of duration and challenge it can be a powerful factor in consolidating learning, igniting inquiry and the development of independence. 

Confidence is everything and children quickly come to realise that practise and a bit of ‘graft’ usually brings improved outcomes. In my mind, reading for pleasure every night should be part and parcel of a child’s home learning experience. Reading not only ‘feeds and engages the brain’ but builds a life- long love of books.

Ideally homework should not be poorly targeted drudgery but be engaging for the child providing a balance of open-ended, creative and practical life skills tasks.