School Name: Bayview Elementary School
School District: SD#68 Nanaimo-Ladysmith
Inquiry Team Members: Natalie Schiewe: email@example.com, Olivia Densmore: firstname.lastname@example.org, Stephanie Stephens: email@example.com, Kevin Brand: firstname.lastname@example.org, Justine Beaudry: email@example.com, Shailly Sareen: firstname.lastname@example.org, Christine Lange: email@example.com
Inquiry Team Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE
Grade Levels: Primary (K-3), Intermediate (4-7)
Curricular Area(s): Language Arts – Oral Language, Matahematics / Numeracy
Focus Addressed: Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), Experiential learning, Flexible learning, Growth mindset, Universal design for learning
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Our team explored how a hands-on approach to teaching problem solving and other mathematical concepts using puzzles and games could improve attitudes and growth in numeracy.
Scanning: We primarily used a student survey to measure attitudes and opinions around mathematical ideas, such as problem-solving techniques and stamina, as well as teacher observations of the same things. We used the four key questions to design our survey and guide the next step in our inquiry, which was to select engaging yet challenging puzzles and games that highlighted and developed key mathematical understandings at various grade levels. Our team noticed that attitudes changed almost immediately as learning and practicing math shifted from being something “hard”, “boring”, or “useless” into something that was “engaging”, “tricky in a good way”, and “made math fun”. All activities were partner or group based, encouraging the development of multiple core competencies, and older or more confident students quickly fell into the role of mentors for younger students engaging with the puzzles and games. We wanted to find a way to see how our students felt about math and numeracy, and try to change it. We also used the NLPS math assessment to measure baseline and average math abilities.
Focus: We selected this area because as a school, we have been noticing that math is often the least liked subject, and is associated with many negative feelings. It was also observed that math seems to get significantly more difficult to teach and learn in upper intermediate grades as students don’t seem to have a strong grasp of number sense and numeration. We were hoping to find teaching strategies that could help improve those areas is an engaging and collaborative way.
Hunch: There are many very traditional approaches to teaching and learning mathematical concepts, most of which involve pencils, paper, and lots of repeated practice; indeed, those methods are often considered to be “tried and true”. However, they do not seem to be serving our students well as they advance through grades, so we needed to change that.
New Professional Learning: As a team, we relied heavily on the research of Jo Boaler (of YouCubed) and Carole Fullerton, both of whom research and share hands-on, problem-based approaches to teaching mathematics. We combined some of their suggested activities, along with puzzles and games that we believe fit into their research, to create a collection of resources available for teachers to use with their students.
Taking Action: The main strategy we used was to start with older students (Gr. 5/6) and just let them play with all of the new resources with very limited teacher instructions. They were instructed to work in partners or groups of three and try to figure out the puzzles and games using the rules that were attached to each one. Students were fully engaged and intrigued by the challenge, and “math talk” was all over the room. As soon as the older group felt confident about the process, they were paired with younger buddy classes and repeated the exploration and math play to model the growth mindsets and problem-solving skills that they were already developing.
Checking: Towards the end of the school year we administered both the survey and the NLPS math assessment to the same group of students. Overall ability level did increase slightly, and math attitudes and mindset increased moderately. Not only were students more excited to practice and develop their math skills, teachers enjoyed the change in instruction format. They were able to articulate their strengths and stretches regarding math concepts in a much more confident matter, as well as identify activities that could help them continue to improve.
Reflections/Advice: We plan to continue to build our schools’ collection of hands-on, problem-based activities, puzzles, and games appropriate for all age and grade levels so that teachers can continue to integrate them into their classrooms. We have learned that these types of resources are well-received by both students and teachers, and result in positive growth. We are also going to continue to explore the research and resources shared by Jo Boaler, Carole Fullerton, and Peter Liljedhal and integrate them into our schools’s teaching and learning practices.