Get Jazzed About Math!

September 11, 2018

You may have heard a PS teacher talk about teaching math for conceptual understanding, and you may have wondered what that looks like in the classroom. You also may have wondered how that’s different from how you learned math. At Prospect Sierra, a deep, conceptual understanding of math means that a student understands the “why” behind the “how” to solve a problem. We believe students need to learn to make mathematical arguments, to critique the reasoning of others, to persevere, to look for patterns and make use of structure, to reason both abstractly and quantitatively, and to attend to precision in calculations as well as mathematical language.

Back in the day, we learned how to multiply ½ x ¼. Some of us memorized how to multiply the numerator with the numerator and the denominator with the denominator. Others don’t remember how to answer the question and give up. Today, we teach students that ½ x ¼ means half of one quarter. Students have the opportunity to work with a fraction strip, cut a whole strip into four pieces and come to understand that one of the four pieces is ¼ of the whole. Next, we ask students to show ½ of ¼ and ask what part of the whole that piece is. This process builds deep conceptual knowledge of multiplication of fractions. If a student forgets the algorithm for multiplying fractions, they own the conceptual understanding and can reason the problem out. This is what creates an able problem-solver in the world, one who has strategies and tools in their toolkit to attack a math challenge or other challenges as they present themselves.

After much research, we have chosen Illustrative Mathematics (IM) as our grades 6 and 7 curricula. We incorporate IM into parts of our 8th-grade algebra class. Illustrative Mathematics has earned a near-perfect score in its review by EdReports, an independent non-profit that reviews K-12 curriculum for quality and standards alignment. Just this past August, three Avis math teachers and I trekked to Chicago for professional development where we learned to maximize IM teaching instruction. To say the math department is “jazzed” about IM and its potential is an understatement.

To help you better understand the math we offer at Avis, we have invited noted math education expert, Phil Daro, to speak with our parent community. Phil is one of the principal authors of Common Core State Standards for mathematics. He consults with school districts across the nation and directs large-scale teacher professional development for the University of California and Stanford. Please mark your calendar for Wednesday, October 17 for this exciting event and come to get “jazzed” about math with us! We look forward to seeing you there!

Laura Palin, Middle School Math Department Chair