I. General Information
School Name: Courtenay Elementary School
School District: SD#71 Comox Valley
Inquiry Team Members: Heidi Jungwirth: Heidi.firstname.lastname@example.org, Alison Walkley: Alison.email@example.com
Inquiry Team Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
II. Inquiry Project Information
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE
Grade Levels Addressed Through Inquiry: Primary (K-3), Intermediate (4-7)
Curricular Areas Addressed: Mathematics / Numeracy
Focus Addressed: Indigenous understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation)
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Our focus was to address the anxiety (shutting down) shown in students when doing mathematics.
III. Spirals of Inquiry Details
Scanning: The first thing that I noticed, and had been noticing for years, was how many students did not enjoy learning about math. This ranged from a lack of enthusiasm, to tears, to disruptive behaviour. It was clear to me that at the grade 4/5 level, there was a significant number of students who had no connection to math. Alison, who teaches primary (K-2 over the last few years), had been noticing the opposite – that her students were increasingly enthusiastic about math and that the math times in her class were full of deep learning.
We asked ourselves, how are students doing, and it was obvious that the older students weren’t doing that well in math, and that the younger students were doing better. Still, Alison wanted to explore how to go deeper with her math instruction, and she wondered if this would increase the enthusiasm for math and deepen the learning of her students.
When we asked the students how they were doing, we got mixed results. The students who were doing “well” in math were happy to continue on as they had in the past. The students who were not doing “well” in math were cautiously interested in learning math in a different way.
We wanted to use all of the OECD principles of learning to approach math instruction in a new way. (Well, for me it was a new way – Alison has been teaching math this way for years). We wanted to use the First People’s Principles of Learning to explore hands-on learning in Math, and also to use math as a lens when exploring First People’s culture.
Focus: What we are hoping to achieve, as an overarching goal, is that students would be confident and enthusiastic mathematicians. As teachers, we were searching for a way to uncover which concepts and skills students needed to learn, so that they could confidently tackle math as a subject area. We also hoped that students would begin to use math as a lens to look at the world (especially Indigenous culture).
Hunch: Our hunch was that the traditional ways that math had been taught were not uncovering the gaps that the students had (which means that we didn’t know what the students didn’t know). We figured that someone must have done this work, and that if we could find out what to do, that we could then provide the intervention needed so that the struggling math students could become confident math students.
New Professional Learning: We started by reading journal articles about math anxiety (there isn’t much that we found). A huge breakthrough came when our new Director of Instruction offered a 5 (1/2 day) course on First Steps in Math. From the description, it sounded like this would address the things we were trying to learn about. We took the course, and were so excited that First Steps in Math is based on a developmental continuum, and that there were ways of determining which concepts your students had mastered, and where your students had misconceptions. We kept exploring the First Steps concepts, and we lobbied our Curriculum Support Teacher and Principal. The principal supported us by purchasing some kits (daily math lessons that follow the First Steps pedagogy) that we will be trialling next year. We met with our Director of Instruction, and she offered to provide the same training (that we had taken) to our whole staff! Also, another staff in the district will take this training. The plan is that Alison and I will pilot these kits and share our learning with our staff. We had enough money left over to purchase a kit that is about intervention for struggling learners in addition and subtraction. Some of our school EA’s are going to take the math pro-d as well, and our hope is that we can set up some EA’s to do simple intervention practice with the students who need it.
Taking Action: This has been an amazingly successful experience. I think that there are a number of things that we did which helped move this along. First, at the beginning, I was super frustrated how the math instruction was going in my classroom. I paired myself up with a person who had a strong math program, but who was willing and enthusiastic about going deeper with her own knowledge – so you have someone who knows little, paired with someone who knows much more. We were given support from the district in terms of the pro-d sessions. We might have made progress without the sessions, but having that come along moved us ahead way quicker than we otherwise would have. Our principal supported us with the purchase of these kits, and also asked us to share what we were doing at a staff meeting. Our staff was open to learning about this new way of teaching math.
I also think that it was very important that there was no pressure on us. Some of the lessons didn’t go well, and I know that I didn’t make as much progress as I was hoping to.
It was interesting to me that the idea of a continuum of learning in math was a concept that so few people knew about. I think that this information needs to be widely shared so that teachers can better understand the ways that children acquire learning about math.
Photo (above): Students learning Lahal, an Indigenous game of probability and chance.
Checking: In both classes, students loved this way of learning math.
In the primary class (1/2), Alison noticed that students began having conversations about math. She noticed that the students spontaneously and enthusiastically wrote a lot in their math journals.
In my class (gr 4/5), the students loved these math lessons as well. I noticed the biggest change in my struggling learners. Before, math was a time when students rebelled, shut down, and refused to do any work; when using the new way of teaching, every single student was engaged. Of course, in grade 4/5 there was a vast range of skills, but even my student who could not yet confidently count by 1’s was excited about doing an activity at his level.
We are satisfied that we made some progress this year, but we see that there is a long way to go. We are confident that we are on the right track, and are both excited to see what next year brings.
Reflections/Advice: I think that my biggest learning this year was how inquiry can transform your teaching. Before we did this inquiry, I was frustrated about teaching math and it was affecting my ability to reach my students. This inquiry has made me enthusiastic about teaching math and I am looking forward to see where we can go. It has been very rewarding to be paired with a teacher who already has a lot of expertise in teaching mathematics. It was very helpful to me that Alison was so far ahead of me – she lent me books, sent me videos, and took the time to show me how she was teaching math.
The advice I would offer other schools is to think about what your frustrations are, and to use this to know exactly where you should focus your attention. I think that the temptation is to ignore things that are not going well, but if you “lean into” these areas where your practice needs improving, you can find great joy and satisfaction in knowing that you are becoming a more effective teacher.