We want students to be thinkers, rather than answer-getters

17-Feb-2015

How is teaching mathematics evolving in Hawaii's public schools? More collaborative learning environments that emphasize habits of mind including perseverance, reasoning, constructing arguments, and more. The author is Eliza Akana Yoshida, who has taught in Valley Isle schools for 12 years. Next year, she will serve as the math/science curriculum coordinator at Pu‘u Kukui Elementary.

math lesson

A lesson on angles at Na'alehu Elementary.

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"I want my students to, at the bare minimum, believe that they are all capable mathematicians,
to not be afraid to make mistakes, and to recognize that there are often many different strategies and solution pathways. Mathematics is about collaboration, creativity and sense making.
It is not just one right answer or the memorization of information."

— teacher Eliza Akana Yoshida 


Eliza Yoshida​I learned math by memorizing formulas and multiplication tables in isolation. In today’s math class, this type of practice would be considered outdated. Today’s teachers are instead creating collaborative learning environments where students are talking about and engaging in meaningful math discourse.

Teaching mathematics today encompasses much more than the rote memorization of facts and formulas. We are asking students to be persevering problem solvers and flexible thinkers who focus on how and why math works, and not just what the answer is. We want them to be thinkers rather than answer-getters. These days, so many adults rely on computers and spreadsheets to do calculations. Schools must help our students develop the critical thinking and problem-solving skills that will be necessary to create the computers and programs that do this work.

Mathematics touches almost every possible occupation our students will hold in the future. The rigorous learning targets outlined by the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics set a benchmark for the concepts and skills that all students should master by the end of each grade. Equally as important as these content standards, the Common Core includes the Standards for Mathematical Practice. These are habits of mind or powerful processes students should engage in while working with the content of math. For example, these practices speak to the idea of perseverance, reasoning, constructing arguments, critiquing the ideas of others, modeling, using appropriate tools, using repeated reasoning and seeing structure, all while precisely communicating about mathematics.

I have been teaching for 12 years – 10 in the classroom and two as a state Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) resource teacher. Next year, I will serve as a math/science curriculum coordinator at Pu‘u Kukui Elementary School on Maui. I love Common Core Math because it has helped spark conversations about what mathematics instruction and learning should look and feel like. I want my students to, at the bare minimum, believe that they are all capable mathematicians, to not be afraid to make mistakes, and to recognize that there are often many different strategies and solution pathways. Mathematics is about collaboration, creativity and sense making. It is not just one right answer or the memorization of information.

So what does this look like? What does it sound like? What does it feel like? Students need to have conversations where we are honoring all ideas, but also being critical listeners in order to give feedback to others. In my classroom, students engage in collaborative conversations where we respectfully hear ideas, agree and disagree, offer our own opinions, give each other feedback, and are willing to make and learn from our mistakes. As the teacher, I merely act as the facilitator of the conversation, and allow the students to engage in mathematical dialog and discourse. This classroom culture needs to be created, fostered and reinforced consistently. Many industries are seeking employees who possess these mathematical reasoning and application skills. As educators, we apply math lessons to real life, and give students skills they can use to get jobs in the future. So, how do we know students have mastered these math skills?

This is where assessments offer insight. Starting this spring, all students in grades 3-8 and grade 11 will begin taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment​. This assessment will be one data point that educators can use to gauge student learning.

Admittedly, the Smarter Balance Assessment is a huge shift for teachers and students. While some may feel overwhelmed, everyone needs to be patient during the transition, and understand that we are asking our students to demonstrate their understanding and apply it at a high level. Common Core is asking us to develop flexible, efficient, critical thinking members of our society, and I see this only as a positive thing.

​Maui​ News​

This piece ran in the Maui News on Feb. 17, 2015.​

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