Innovations in Teaching Math to All Children

6-11-15

By Marilyn Huerta
June 15, 2015

In June, the summer breeze blew through the CSUSM campus as North County elementary school teachers gathered to learn new methods for teaching math. They attended the Innovations in Elementary Mathematics Instruction for All Children: A Symposium for Multilingual Educators at California State University San Marcos. Hosted by the School of Education, and funded by the Virginia Hansen Family Endowment, this dynamic two-day workshop was deemed a success by the teachers, each of whom had an opportunity to attend a session in either English or Spanish.

Kamii, who has past experience working with the renown philosopher and developmental psychologist, Jean Piaget, lead the session in English and focused her discussion on the importance of children better understanding the concepts of math logic and making sense of numbers. She spoke about the significance of child development and mentioned that it was best for students to first explore how to solve a problem before they are introduced to symbols and math language.

Teachers inquired about using technology in the classroom as a part of common core requirements. Kamii was not a big fan of using technology in the early years of development, as it requires skipping some essential brain development steps. She recommended that children needed to first try to solve the math problems before they are taught the process or before they use any technology. Once students attempt to solve the equations, they are to explain “how” they produced the answer. She points out that students do not simply memorize steps in the problem, but rather they need to be permitted to choose a method that they best understand. Children need to be encouraged to become independent thinkers.

“Give the kids a chance to struggle with it first and then ask them to reflect on their answer,” Catherine Weldon, teacher attending the workshop recalls. She goes on to say, “This is a different process then the traditional process when teachers write math steps on the board and the students are expected to just follow them. Some children develop at different stages, so some will need to use a process that makes sense to them,” Weldon shares.

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Professor Gustavo Saldaña, an engineer and teacher educator at the National University of Mexico, employed creativity in leading the Spanish workshop. His participants interacted with hands-on board games and playful activities that provided them with new methods and strategies in teaching geometric concepts. This group shared how much they appreciated the introduction to new teaching techniques, and also appreciated the opportunity to hear the explanations in Spanish. “This is so helpful,” said one of the teachers, “I wish we could attend more workshops in Spanish.”

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In both sessions, the presenters discussed how children’s cultural background influences their education. Why doesn’t a child speak up in class and ask for help when s/he is struggling? As the conversation continued, teachers explored math reasoning and they gained a better understanding as to why children struggle with math. Teachers agreed that they must continue to encourage their students to ask questions and they understand that the children must be part of the teaching process.

These information-packed workshops ended with a time for reflection and debrief of the value of the workshops. Teachers left feeling inspired and excited about implementing new strategies in their classrooms. For many, the conversation will continue.

The Virginia Hanson Symposium Foundation supported this symposium.

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