Saturday, February 25, 2012

Out of the starting blocks

It's hard to believe I'm through four full weeks of teaching this year (first two weeks of school were orientation and camp).

Maths teaching & methods

I spent ages in the December holidays reading on the web about maths teaching methodology & thought, and working to integrate the materials available in our textbook and state-provided teaching materials into a programme of work for the year. The Foundations for Learning material contains lots of good teaching ideas, though the way it jumps around topics and the pace in general seems unrealistic. Our textbook, Classroom Mathematics, also has (what seemed) a good emphasis on discovery, problem solving, recognising more than one way to get to an answer, and real life applications.

But.... our baseline assessment at the start of the year showed a huge gap between a bunch of star performers and another bunch of kids who are drowning at sea. (Sound familiar anyone?) There are also some topics that are weak across the group (long division, column multiplication, ratio among them). I kicked off with my planned lessons on calculator skills, some review of Grade 5 skills and problem solving as per the textbook....and we were immediately in trouble.  Most of the problems set by the textbook assumed skills which many of the learners couldn't bring to the party, and they were immediately floundering. I won't go into the details, but it was scary.

The good news: right at that time two Jump Math webinar's I'd booked during the holidays came up. You can read all about Jump Maths here if you haven't yet, but the parts that I really like are the way each component skill of a higher level operation is properly put into place, before it is taught or attempted. Learning and embedding small steps of skills also builds confidence - a major problem among the 30% of my learners who have regularly been getting awful grades for Maths.

So, two weeks ago we started off on our journey with Jump Maths, an inexperienced maths teacher, two challenging classes, and some promising material off the web. My HoD said anything that works as long as it covers the curriculum. I took a deep breath and suppressed my worries about losing the plot...

We started off with the Introductory Unit Using Fractions, which is intended to cement some basic operations skills and knowledge, while developing confidence and making a good start on an important (and often troublesome) part of the curriculum.

On the positive side, as per the testimonials on the Jump Math website, my 'weaker' learners are charging successfully through the work, and the boy who said at the outset, "I can't do fractions," is smiling all the way. Overall most of the learners in the class are enjoying the work and the safety of learning incrementally rather than trying to make some kind of trapeze leap with weak equipment. I'm assessing what they've learnt to far on Monday, and am feeling hopeful.

What I'll need to figure out:
  • I'm working hard at trying to match up Jump Math units and lessons with our curriculum. There are more lessons than I can fit in, and the curricula are not a perfect match. I'm also concerned that we'll move a bit more slowly than necessary to get through all the required topics.
  • Bringing in other resources and ideas. I'm never someone to rely completely on a given set of resources. Part of my prep will need to be seeing where I think some of my own/other resources are necessary to add local relevance, deepen conceptual understanding, or develop specific skills. 
  • Differentiation. Some of the children who are way 'ahead of the pack' are zooming through the Jump Math work as well as extension and bonus questions provided by the text, and more provided by me. They are looking a bit skeptical and the fact is they like a challenge, and are not getting enough of that. I think what I need is good quality extension material they can work on by themselves when they have free time. I'd want something with answer sheets so they can get these from me to correct their own work, and only consult me if they are completely stuck.  Any suggestions?
  • Conversely, the little mental maths/maths facts workbook we are provided with and have to work through (as homework), is pitched at too high a level for some learners. I'll need to give them different or additional homework to practice more basic skills - but manage this without making them feel inferior. Perhaps I can simply leave the choice to them.
I still wanted to write a bit about classroom management issues but this post is already long and it will have to wait. Happy Maths teaching and please let me know if you have any advice, suggestions, or experience of using Jump Math material.

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