I went into my classroom today to try and get my head around some of the work I must do before term starts. It was a bad move. We are getting some new classrooms this year courtesy of the government stimulus spending package and the builders were using a jack hammer. Then the network was down so I could not log on. I could feel a wasted day coming on. So I decided to tidy my maths files. By the end of the hour I felt good and here’s why.
When 5 years ago, I first started teaching year 5 it was by following the program of the previous teacher, maths was taught using a text book and not much else, the pages were followed consecutively and the aim was to get the book filled in by the end of the year.
At the end of that first year I reflected on my teaching and the students learning and thought, something is not right. I know (I thought) we need a different text book. (this is really sad) Another two years passed with a couple of different text books.
By this time I was also dipping into other books, adding some games, using a few manipulative materials and programming to teach in units rather than pages. I had implemented the use of Mathletics across the school and a few laptops were starting to appear in our classrooms. Having a text book though still meant those pages needed to be filled, so lessons were easily planned. In the busy rush of a school day maths could just happen.
I knew though, that something still was not right, for many students maths was considered to be boring, dull, uninspiring. So I put my reflection hat on again and finally towards the end of 2008 I had an ‘ah ha’ moment. It was the owning of a text book that was the problem. What we needed to do was ditch them and start afresh. I managed to persuade my lovely and long suffering co-teacher that we could handle this and our principal that no, we would not have a parent revolt if they did not see a complete text book filled in at the end of the year.
In 2009 we started the year with some fabulous mathematics in-servicing in LIEN and LIN maths and off we went. It was, I have to say not an easy road. I planned and programed lessons for 3 to 4 different ability based groups using a variety of websites including Mathletics, which is fairly good but still very algorithm focused. I signed us up for Smartkiddies again many good parts. We utilised the excellent Kent Woodlands Maths Zone for links to many games. I checked out and used some Smartboard lessons from various sites. We used ‘Maths in a box’ And I planned as much hands on real life lessons as I could. We played the excellent LIN games, we got out in the playground, we moved around the school, we used Google maps above all we worked together and we had fun.
The culmination of our year was an IKEA maths project, my son was a junk mail delivery boy and we found ourselves with 55 left-over IKEA catalogues. So I devised a unit whereby each student had a budget with which to furnish a room. The room was a certain size and part of their job was to draw an accurate to scale representation of the room and to reproduce that in Google sketch-up. They had to keep accurate costing of every item they purchased and produce a document/poster showing their final costings and drawings. Each day that week my students would rush in. “Can we do maths today?’ The classroom was a buzz with activity with planning, with calculating, with hands on real life maths.
So why did I feel good about tidying my files? Well because I threw out endless photocopied worksheets and text book pages, which I know I will never use again. I know my program is not perfect yet. I need to find more ideas, more on-line resources now that we have 1:2 laptops in the room. I need to devise new SMARTboard lessons to use in small group situations. I also need to refine our testing, as with NAPLAN on in May, I will still need to prepare my students for testing.
One thing I know for sure is though, I will never teach a class with a maths text book as standard again.
I know that many of my readers will already not be using text books and that many wonderful teachers create programs and lessons from scratch. If however you are using a textbook and thinking something is not right about 10 and 11 year old children disliking maths ,then my challenge to you is ditch the text book and go back to basics.