Math education is one of the building blocks of a student’s education, starting with sorting and counting such blocks from a young age.
For more than a decade, the Board of Education for Saskatoon Public Schools has made Literacy for Life a strategic priority, building students’ ability to read and write from the time they begin school. In recent years, that focus on literacy has grown to include mathematics.
Jennifer Brokofsky, math coordinator for Saskatoon Public Schools, states mathematical thinking begins at an early age. From the outside, lessons may look like plain old fun for children but such activities influence a student’s understanding of basic math concepts.
“As children begin to understand the world around them, concepts like quantity, patterns, sorting, shape and space are learned. Providing our students with opportunities to engage in mathematical thinking through play and inquiry early on in their school journey can provide them with a solid foundation for future learning and help them make sense of the world around them,” said Brokofsky.
“Our youngest mathematicians are capable of reasoning, reflecting and problem solving and our job as teachers is to deepen these skills through meaningful learning experiences.”
The school division’s approach to mathematics derives from its vision that students see the value and relevance of math in their world. This vision for students guides not only instructional decisions by teachers, but also the professional learning offered to math teachers.
A key area of focus is computational fluency – a student’s ability to add, subtract, multiply and divide at a grade-appropriate level with understanding, efficiency and accuracy. Teachers are encouraging students to become computationally fluent through number activities that challenge them and provoke them to flex their knowledge.
“We focus on our learners having proficient computational skills, mathematical vocabulary, and the strategies to apply, represent and communicate their mathematical understandings,” said Brokofsky.
“As students build their fluency with ‘basic facts’, they free up working memory and create space for more complex problem solving and mathematical reasoning.”
Mathematics Quick Screeners are an important tool in helping teachers gauge students’ understanding of math. The assessment tool was created by Saskatoon Public Schools and aligns with the provincial math curriculum. Screeners are designed to provide teachers with a snapshot of student learning strengths and needs. This allows teachers to provide appropriate instruction to meet students’ needs.
“Our screeners have precipitated changes to the way teachers teach mathematics through flexible small groups, responsive learning stations, differentiated instruction and re-teaching,” said Brokofsky.
Saskatoon Public Schools believes that providing supportive and innovative professional learning for teachers will result in more responsive instruction and greater outcomes for students, Brokofsky explained. Professional learning allows math educators to consult research, collaborate with colleagues and strengthen their instructional practices. What is learned alongside colleagues is brought back to their classrooms to the benefit of students.
“Investments like this in our teachers create confidence and competence in mathematics teaching and that translates into confidence and competence in students,” Brokofsky said. “Teachers repeatedly report that this professional learning has a significant positive impact on their professional understanding, instructional practice and student learning and confidence.”
With all of this focus on math instruction for students and teachers, how is success measured? Brokofsky said success in math has many facets. Beyond regular assessments that are both standardized and teacher-oriented, the competency of a math student may be measured through their confidence in the work. Teachers want students to demonstrate a mathematical mindset, perseverance, collaboration, and problem-solving skills, as well as the ability to connect ideas and defend their thinking.
“Teacher observations of students at work, conversations with students about their mathematical reasoning, and teacher-created assessments are all valuable tools to measure student growth and success,” said Brokofsky. “These tools inform instructional decision making and, when accompanied by clear feedback, offer students opportunities to grow their mathematical understanding and skills.”
By providing the building blocks of responsive instruction, student assessment and professional learning for teachers, Saskatoon Public Schools has constructed a solid foundation for math learning that allows students to demonstrate their skills and grow as mathematicians.
“We want to foster a mathematical mindset in all of our students,” Brokofsky said. “We want them to have confidence, curiosity, persistence, creativity, and a willingness to take risks.”