As we come to the end of another school year, our team here at the AIMS Center has been spending time reflecting on the past year of learning from students. We were asked the question, “If you could go back into the classroom, what would you do differently in regards to your math instruction?”
I immediately had flashbacks to my first year of teaching 2nd grade at John Burroughs elementary in Fresno Unified. I had been assigned to a second grade class three weeks into the start of the new 1996-97 school year. The district had just adopted a new math curriculum, MathLand, that was very concept- and manipulative-based. Since I had come in after the start of the school year I missed the teacher training that went with the curriculum, but I had taken many great math courses as an undergraduate during my teacher credential program. I felt fairly confident in my abilities to impart effective math instruction on my students.
I can recall one of my very first math lessons very vividly. The lesson, as presented in the teacher’s edition, called for students to create their own “Math Stories” using plastic dinosaur counters. I thought the directions for the lessons were pretty simple: students were to work with a partner using the dinosaur counters to create their own addition or subtraction story, and then record their story with a number sentence and a picture on a blank piece of paper. I got all the material ready, gave the students the directions for the lesson, passed out the materials and waited. I was expecting by the end of the math period I would be collecting these cute, creative dinosaur pictures with number sentences and maybe even some writing on them. Not five minutes after I passed out the materials did I lookup to see a dinosaur flying across the room, then another, and another. I wanted the students to create dinosaur stories . . . they had other plans!
Cue the music . . Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time!”
Wow! If I could go back in time and have the opportunity to do that lesson over again, knowing what I know now! After spending almost a year studying the research of Dr. Les Steffe, I would approach the process of planning for math instruction differently. I am coming to understand that children go through a developmental progression in their construction of understanding number and based on the research, we can infer at which stage a student may be based on how they engage with counting tasks.
Having this knowledge in my box of tools I would plan for that “dinosaur” lesson much differently. I might start out by giving partners a container of dinosaurs, asking them to count them, just to observe how students count the dinosaurs. “What would I notice? What would I do next?” you ask. You will have to read my next blog to find out!