[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on April 17th of this year, was our #10 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2019 countdown!]
Historically, students have been led to believe that they are either destined to be good at math or that they just “aren’t a math person.” At Springfield (MO) Public Schools, we wanted all of our students to feel empowered as mathematicians. Through Jo Boaler’s research, we were able to identify key changes that needed to take place in order for that to happen in our district.
Our approach to teaching mathematics began as a journey toward equity in math class. We began focusing on conceptual understanding, strategy-based fluency through number talks and open tasks that support multiple entry points and solutions. In the past, much of our math instruction was focused on procedural rules that didn’t allow students to build flexibility with numbers. Despite the constant focus on fact retrieval, teachers continued to note that students didn’t have mastery of basic facts year after year, and it showed in our standardized test scores. We began offering professional development around strategy-based fact practice and eradicated time testing from our classrooms.
Last year we implemented a workshop model to support the need for differentiating instruction in K-5 classrooms. We modified that structure this year to include whole-group problem-solving days, in which educators facilitated productive struggle and the class worked heterogeneously and dived deeply into problems that were more inquiry- or visual-based.
Turning math class into a conversation
One of our district components for math workshops was a numerate environment. There was a misconception that a numerate environment was the visibility of math tools, literature, and anchor charts. Our vision for a numerate environment was one that fosters a classroom full of collaboration and discourse. We wanted to hear students actively sharing ideas, thinking deeply about mistakes, and connecting their ideas and strategies to those of others.