Originally posted on blog.tenmarks.com on 4/10/2016
by Beverly Ladd and Heidi Samuelson
Did you know April is Mathematics Awareness Month? The goal of Mathematics Awareness Month is to increase appreciation and understanding of math. As we reflect on math during this time, we are struck by one particular aspect of the subject: Getting the right answer is not always what math is about. More than the right answer is the journey students embark on as they strive to learn a new skill or solve a task. The importance of math goes beyond the day-to-day standards that we teach. Often, the most important part of math is what is not written on a lesson plan at all. Often, the important part of math is in the connections, communications, and commitment to work toward a goal.
As teachers, we strive for students not only to get the right answers, but also to develop a growth mindset when they make a mistake. Helping a child internalize that making mistakes is part of learning gives them the opportunity to understand that the mistakes they make are proof of learning. Creating this growth mindset in our students is vital to helping them become better learners, as well as developing a sense of determination.
Empathy and Respect
Students who work together in a collaborative learning environment gain social and emotional skills that are priceless and will allow them to be used in careers that haven’t been created or thought of yet. These are skills they will use not only in their everyday lives, but also as they work in other skill subject areas.
Often, a student working with a student that has the wrong answer will instill empathy because they have the opportunity to guide and teach the struggling student on how to get the right answer.
Students can also learn with others beyond the walls of the classroom. This builds empathy as they learn to appreciate cultural differences while developing math skills and seeing life from a different viewpoint. Breaking down classroom walls to initiate student collaboration and learning can happen in a variety of methods: Skype, students tweeting from a Twitter classroom account to participate in the Global Math Task Twitter Challenge (@globalmathtask) or in a collaborative online document. The method and frequency can vary, depending on the comfort level of the teacher and the technology resources available, but learning outside the classroom walls is beneficial for all involved!
Learning with other students in a collaborative learning environment allows students to carry their math conversations and observations outside the structured “math lesson,” granting math talk to be blended throughout the day. More connections and deeper relationships are discovered, which helps students respond to the mathematical thinking of others, not just in their classroom, but also globally. Critical thinking is continually developed as students look deeper at the different ways in which students from across the globe are solving and sharing math tasks.
In order for students to develop reasoning skills, students need multiple opportunities to practice communicating in math. Challenging students to use both written and verbal methods of communication gives them more opportunities to justify answers. Many times, students gain another viewpoint or method on how to solve a task while listening to other students justify answers to show their thinking. Students must learn to use appropriate vocabulary terms when explaining their thinking. Solutions must be presented in a clear “voice” when sharing with a global audience. This helps everyone develop better communication skills and become more confident mathematicians, not only today, but also years from now when they are no longer in a classroom.
Developing lifelong learners is a goal that every teacher dreams about. We want the students in our classroom to build their own curiosity and interests through discussions, lessons, and activities they have experienced while with us. Using math to spark the imagination and help mold the developing skills of our students, teachers strive to help our students leave our classrooms with more than just what was written in our daily lesson plan book. Let’s endeavor to spark curiosity and desire in our students towards collaborating, communicating, and respecting others even though they may look and talk differently. Allowing collaborative learning environments can potently change the way our students learn to develop necessary skills, like respect and empathy for others. Let’s inspire our students to treasure the differences that make us unique, as well as to help them see how math can be a common factor for all of us during Math Awareness Month, and always!