INQUIRY AND PROBLEM SOLVING IN MATH
February 11, 2019

Dear Harbor Families,

This week, I held a parent information session about the teaching and learning of mathematics, which happens to be a passion of mine.  We had several parents come and engage in thoughtful discussion about this important aspect of our program at Harbor. For those of you who weren’t able to make it, I thought you may be interested in a recap and the link to the presentation slides.

On Tuesday morning, the group  spent some time discussing what math class looked like when we were each in school. Chances are, your experience may have been much like ours - with an unbalanced emphasis on memorizing number facts and algorithms and practicing them, ad nauseum. While knowing math facts and how to compute numbers is absolutely still important, research about learning and the brain has driven changes in math education for the better.

Students at Harbor are developing number sense and making meaning about number, measurement, data analysis, geometry, and even early algebraic thinking - through hands-on experiences with manipulatives, in authentic real-life problem-solving settings. Much beyond memorizing procedures for solving algorithms, goals are centered around the  application of math learning. When you walk into a scheduled math time in one of our classrooms, you will see students collaborating on projects, explaining and defending their thinking, and working with manipulatives to construct and represent meaning. And beyond scheduled math time, you’ll see  math being integrated into many other parts of the day, from morning meeting routines to design challenges to individual self-initiated projects, such as one that a first grader recently embarked upon.

A few weeks ago, Leo noticed that many of the kids in his class were not eating the broccoli in Tuesday’s hot lunch menu. He came to me and told me that he thought we should change the Tuesday vegetable to carrots, so I challenged him to justify his thinking and prove to me that it was a good decision to make. With the help of his teachers and some of his classmates, Leo conducted a school survey, with a random sampling of Harbor students, to determine which was the preferred vegetable - carrots or broccoli.  After collecting and organizing his data, he presented me with a compelling argument to change the menu. Needless to say, you will notice that, starting with the next term of hot lunch, students will have carrots as the side vegetable on Tuesdays! (To see Leo’s work, check out the wall on the left the next time you walk into the building.)

This is but one example of the kind of authentic problem-solving experience that students are engaging in in our classrooms every day. Teachers intentionally structure learning to  build student agency, confidence, and a growth mindset. Yes, they are practicing their math facts to achieve automaticity, they are learning algorithms, and gaining procedural knowledge. Yet, and even more importantly, they are truly becoming mathematicians.

Feel free to catch me anytime to talk more about math teaching and learning. It’s one of my favorite topics!

Mathematically, yours,

Leah Musico

Head of School

The Harbor School

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