Math Is Fun. No Kidding!

Like many elementary educators, I entered teaching with little preparation or experience teaching math. My focus in grad school was on literacy education and that has remained my comfort zone ever since. This fall I wanted to tackle my area of weakness and joined Chris Ward in attending two math-focused workshops led by mathematics consultant This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., one of the developers of the Primary Number and Operation Assessment (PNOA). Loree’s work explores the parallels between how children construct an understanding of language and how they construct number sense. I spoke with Loree about her experiences with math and what advice she has for elementary teachers as they approach math in their classrooms.

Becky Wipfler (BW): What drew you to math?

Loree Silvas (LS): As an elementary school teacher, my initial focus was on literacy. I then became an informal math specialist and started helping with assessments. A few years ago, I received a four-year grant from UVM, which gave the gift of time to research with other math educators in the state.

BW:  In your workshops you stress the importance of dedicating the same time and energy to math that has historically been dedicated to literacy. Why do you think there is often more of a focus on literacy than on math?

LS:  Teachers of young children often get into teaching because they want to teach literacy. They tend to be math-phobic, uncomfortable with the subject themselves. They have math anxiety and tend to stick to methods and areas in which they are comfortable.

BW: What is an important shift in teaching math that teachers should make?

LS: Instead of teaching kids how to just get the answer, we need to allow the time for them to understand the concept. Kids need time to grapple with problems and problem solving.There needs to be systemic change and that takes time.

BW:  What does an ideal elementary math classroom look like?

LS:  Full of open-ended questions and exploration with lots of communication, filled with math conversations about multiple strategies. Kids should be encouraged to take ownership of their math learning.  We should use the techniques we use to teach literacy, such as the workshop model. Students could have math boxes, just like we do with book bins, to practice automaticity or fluency. There should be problem solving of bigger tasks, as well as math games. The teacher can work with small groups, as we do with guided reading. Parallel what we do in literacy. Kids need the encouragement to think of math as investigation, inquiry-based, like we do with science. As students explore or investigate big ideas, they prove what they know.

BW:  What are your final words of wisdom to elementary math teachers?

LS:  Talk less and listen more. Let students do the thinking. Learn from your students.

Commentary by Becky Wipfler

Becky Wipfler is UVEI’s Elementary Education Coordinator and a member of our Program Faculty.  

Other commentaries by Becky, can be found at:
http://uvei.edu/blog/322-school-district-partnerships-reinvigorate-teaching-practices
http://uvei.edu/blog/318-project-based-learning-why-it-matters
http://uvei.edu/blog/287-my-evolution-as-a-literacy-coach
http://uvei.edu/blog/328-differentiation-how-and-why-it-works
http://uvei.edu/blog/339-partnering-for-school-change

You can follow her on Twitter @UVEIwipfler