Earlier this year, I was hired as a District Math Liaison. I have always loved Math and I love teaching Math and this opportunity seemed like a great way to improve my own teaching and to have some time to explore some of the things in Math instruction that I never seem to have time to get to in my own classroom. After being hired, I had a moment (well, several moments) of panic – did I really have enough knowledge and experience to be able to help and mentor other teachers?
In one of these panic moments, I thought it would be a great idea to search around for some Math-related Professional Development opportunities. I had heard of the BC Association of Mathematics Teachers (BCAMT) before and that seemed like a logical place to start – so I went online and discovered the NorthWest Math conference. It sounded like a good fit, so I applied for funding to go and was approved.
Over the course of the weekend, I had the opportunity to attend some really thought-provoking sessions that had me thinking hard about my own Math instruction and how I can best support teachers who have questions about Math in their classrooms. I left with many great activities to try and also more questions and ideas to ponder.
So here are 3 of the big takeaway ideas that the conference got me thinking about:
- The number one question that I have been asked this fall as a Math Liaison is (can you guess?): “How do I get my kids to learn their basic facts?” I have used strategy-based instruction in my (Grade 4/5) classroom for many years and I still find that there are always (at least) a handful of kids that never really get confident or fluent with their basic facts. This conference really got me thinking of this question in the context of number sense in general. I wonder… Are my students who continue to struggle with their basic facts (even after learning strategies) really struggling with poor number sense in general? How can I build in more opportunities for my students to develop number sense and flexibility with numbers? This is something I will continue to think about and explore with my students…
- Literacy-Math connection. This is a topic that is fascinating to me – especially as a teacher in an inner city school. Many of my Grade 4/5 students struggle with reading and this presents interesting challenges in math as well. I also know that students everywhere struggle to navigate word problems successfully – they just want to “do something” to the numbers instead of trying to understand what the question is asking. The conference left me with some great ideas of how to try to bridge the gap between Math and literacy that I will try in my class this year (and hopefully share here).
- Questioning. It is sometimes difficult to really figure out what students know and how deeply they really understand the concepts that are presented. I went to an excellent session on using open-ended questions with students to find out where they are at and try to push their thinking further. In addition to using these question stems, I am also trying to switch up my assessment to try to ask more communicating and open-ended questions that require students to share their thinking.
I had no idea that the NWMC would be so big and well-organized and inspiring – I was expecting a much smaller affair with more local presenters. But, what an amazing conference! I feel very fortunate that I applied for funding and was able to attend on a year that this conference was held in BC. Many thanks to the organizers who put on such a great event!