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Heads Up: Evolving How We Teach Mathematics

A student completes a mathematics problem on the white board of their classroom.

The following message from Director of Curriculum and Assessment Chantal Balogh appeared in this weekend’s Heads Up, a weekly email for Friends Academy families.

Last Tuesday during our professional development day, I had the pleasure of guiding our entire faculty through a morning workshop about inquiry-based learning, mathematics education, and the value of encouraging perseverance and deeper understanding in all of our teaching.

At Friends, we have been examining our mathematics curriculum over the past year and a half, with a goal of creating a consistent math framework from Kindergarten through Grade 8 that thoroughly prepares students for secondary school, college, and future careers. Up until now, we have been using several different programs to teach math to students in Lower School, Middle School, and the Sally Borden Program. In short, we want to “do math better” – and that requires us to be one school in how we teach.

A new math curriculum will not be much of a change in content, but rather an improvement in consistency and learning methods. Current research into mathematics education is telling us that the sweet spot is to strike a balance between procedural fluency, application of skills, and a conceptual understanding of math – encouraging students to represent problems and solutions in multiple ways. It’s a different approach from the rote memorization of skills many of us learned in our earlier years.

For a glimpse into the comparison between math approaches, consider the following visual:

You’ve likely seen an example like that on the left, where one is challenged to calculate the number of items in a container. This type of problem is typically soliciting one single response. In contrast, on the right we see an example of a rich task: it has multiple entry points, enriches the thought process to extend ideas further, and encourages collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking rather than looking for the “right” answer. This is akin to the inquiry-based collaborative work that we prioritize in other disciplines, such as science and humanities. Students experience the feeling of making sense of things, seeing relationships, better understanding the underlying concepts, and showing progress.

By May, we will decide on a new mathematics curriculum to bring with us into the 2024-25 school year and beyond. With one math program that speaks to all grades, students will see more consistency of learning across their FA journey. A new program will also be relevant, accessible, engaging, and allow for real-world application in life and the careers of tomorrow.

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