When thinking about application to the real world, math is both the most used and least used subject taught in school. On the one hand, we are never asked to sit down and do a list of problems. We are never asked to recite our times tables, and we are certainly never explicitly asked to “solve for x” in an equation. Yet, on a daily basis, we are asked to use math skills to navigate the world around us. How many pizzas should I order if each person will eat three slices? Which jar of peanut butter is cheaper? How can I make a double (or half) batch of cookies? How much fabric should I buy? How many more miles can I get out of my car before I really need to stop for gas?
When designing the academic program at Einstein Academy, we knew a strong math program was crucial for the future success of our students. As such, we spoke with several heads of school and various math experts about methodologies and curriculum for teaching math. We wanted something that was aligned with our philosophy and approach to education (student-centered, fostering critical thinking, hands-on) and also taught math in a sequential manner. We wanted to foster both mathematical thinking and strong skills.
What was most important to us was that we were growing mathematicians who would have a deep understanding of how math works, not only in problems given during class, but in the world.
Here are some examples of what a mathematician is not:
A first grader who “knows” square roots because he was reading a book and memorized some facts, but cannot explain to you what a square root is.
A fourth grader who “knows” how to do multi-digit multiplication because she’s seen enough problems on the board, but cannot explain why we carry this number or add that zero.
A middle schooler who has strong skills and math facts in isolation, but when faced with a word problem cannot determine which information is relevant and what process to take to solve the problem.
This is a mathematician: When faced with real-world problem, a student is able to extract relevant information and utilize a variety of tools and strategies to find a solution.
With the goal of creating mathematicians in mind, we selected a curriculum called Investigations3 as the framework for our math program. This program is based on Common Core State Standards and takes an inquiry approach to mathematics, encouraging students to actively explore mathematics to develop understanding and fluency. The underlying philosophy of Investigations3 includes: student-centered mathematics, active learning and collaboration, more than one way to solve problems, and justification and explanation of reasoning.
Additionally, we employ two different forms of math assessment: one which is aimed at assessing mathematical thinking (Georgia Numeracy Project) and one which assesses command of specific skills and concepts. Looking at the data of these two types of assessments allows us to understand who our students are as mathematicians and adjust their individual program accordingly.
Using these pieces as the basis throughout most of the school, we are able to create small groupings in our already-small classes so that we can differentiate instruction for students (both challenging and supporting them as needed).
Ultimately, math isn’t about memorization. It isn’t about completing problems on a worksheet. It’s about understanding the world around you. 21st century problems need math thinkers, not math memorizers, and we, at Einstein Academy, are developing the mathematicians that the world needs.