For about the past three years I have served as one of the fourth grade representatives on my school district’s Math Curriculum Committee. The committee initially assembled in order to assist in the selection and implementation of a new math series that would be used across the district. However, we had a curveball thrown our way when Pennsylvania adopted the Common Core State Standards. It was at this point in time that the committee turned its attention to this drastic change, and the way in which we would utilize professional development to familiarize all teachers with these new standards and practices.
As part of the professional development process, I recently presented on Common Core Mathematics to all of the fourth grade teachers in my district. The presentation lasted for approximately 2.5 hours, and it took place on my district’s fall in service day. The majority of the content focused on how inquiry-based mathematics could be taught, and not so much the new fourth grade documents (pacing guide, curriculum, etc.) that will be rolled out within the next year or so. Presenting all of the information in one session would have been overwhelming for all parties involved. Also, in order to truly emphasize the pedagogical shift that must take place, I strongly felt that it was best to first focus on how to teach before reviewing what to teach.
Here is a brief outline of what took place over the 2.5 hours:
- Math Activity #1, Slice it Up – This is an activity adapted from Teaching Student-Centered Mathematics by John Van de Walle and LouAnn Lovin.
- Video, Khan Academy Does Angry Birds – A video by Dan Meyer that manages to sum up inquiry-based learning in about two minutes. After watching the video, we discussed how it relates to the inquiry-based activity that was completed in Step #1.
- Background on what constructivism looks like in a mathematics classroom – The majority of this material was taken from Chapter 1 of Teaching Student-Centered Mathematics. The presentation included information on: student reflective thinking; social interaction in the classroom; the use of manipulatives; students explaining their answers; teaching with the big ideas in mind; the need for drill and practice; and assessment.
- Review of the revised documents – We briefly reviewed the Standards for Mathematical Practice and the new fourth grade pacing guide.
- Video, Discover Number Patterns with Skip Counting – A third grade lesson from the Teaching Channel website. After watching the video, we discussed how the lesson relates to inquiry-based mathematics.
- Math Activity #2, Who Could They Be? & Math Activity #2A, If You Didn’t Know – Teachers were presented with the option of completing one of these two activities. Each one was adapted from Teaching Student-Centered Mathematics.
- A demo of Flubaroo – A tool that transforms Google Forms into self-grading quizzes.
- Overview of the fourth grade math Common Core course on Moodle, which contains documents to support Common Core implementation.
- Time for teachers to explore on their own.
During the presentation, technology was integrated in the following ways:
- From beginning to end, a backchannel was used in order to make the presentation more interactive. At certain points in time – such as at the conclusion of the video – all participants were asked to leave a message in order to reflect upon and share what they had learned.
- During Math Activity #1 and Math Activity #2 I circled the room and took photographs of work with my iPhone. Then, I used the Web Albums app to wirelessly uploaded these photographs to the Picasa Web Album on my website. When it was time for participants to present their work, it was waiting for them on the classroom’s electronic whiteboard.
- For Math Activity #2A the teachers entered their answers into a Google spreadsheet that had been made public. Once again, this allowed for seamless sharing of work.
- During all activities, an electronic timer was used in order to help everyone manage their time.
Most importantly, all four of these techniques helped to model possible features of a 21st century classroom. The hope is that the attendees will remember these ideas and use them during their classroom instruction.
Overall, I was very pleased with the presentation. Throughout the 2.5 hours, the majority of the participants seemed genuinely interested. They constantly engaged in meaningful conversation that focused on, “How can I make this work for my students?” rather than, “The students that I have couldn’t handle this.” Although I am far from an expert in the Common Core or mathematics instruction, I cannot thank my colleagues enough for approaching a new initiative with an open mind. I look forward to learning with them as we continue the process of reforming our mathematics instruction.
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