Math for the Future
Is There Math for All?
By Christie LaFleur and Beth Minor, National Curriculum Specialists
What does “math for the future” really mean? Remember when we said, “In the twenty-first century…”? Now, we are nineteen years into it! So, we ask ourselves: What changed? What needs to change? As teachers, we are constantly in motion — both physically and intellectually. Our minds are in motion — thinking, changing, contriving, questioning — these are but a few of the things we do every minute of the day. Our bodies are in motion — moving around the classroom, checking in on students, managing materials and resources. Yet sometimes we are resistant to change — especially as teachers, we take pride in what we’ve created and will question if it needs change. This is a conundrum we face as we propel forward into the middle of the twenty-first century.
In the past, many considered math a very specialized subject, with only a select few advancing in the more difficult math coursework. But technology and attitudes have changed all of that — we’re in a competitive world where math filters into everything! We see that reasoning and critical thinking are a part of all we do. Math is life!
In today’s world, all people use math daily to do everything from grocery shopping, to managing household accounts, to filling out complex forms and formulas. Math is also a daily part of work life. From giving change at the drive-through window to solving complex computing problems, understanding and using math is necessary for life and career success. In looking to the future, most fast-growing career opportunities are focused on math, technology, and the sciences. These career fields continue to grow and provide strong choices for our students in today’s global society. This makes me think of several questions that need answers.
Are we ready?
What change is needed?
Are we preparing students?
Are all students being serviced?
These are all tough questions. But there’s much that can be done throughout PreK-12 to make it happen. We know district leaders look at the future and anticipate change, but consider: how can YOU be a part of the change? Let’s look at a few opportunities:
Grow. It sounds simple, but creating a culture of growth promotes the change needed to have everyone — students and teachers— moving toward learning. Do you ever stop learning? No! So, a mindset of growth for all promotes change that challenges, stimulates, and encourages everyone to set new expectations and become curious about new things.
Collaborate. Students and teachers both need time for this to happen: time to talk, time to share, time to grow! When collaboration happens, so does change. Goal-set, explore new ways to teach, attempt someone else’s strategy — this all provides opportunity for ongoing collaboration and effective ways to work together and embrace new ideas. True growth occurs!
Think flexibly. Think about student needs and how they change over the course of a single year. When using materials, are they flexible so they fully meet the needs of all students? This of course includes the digital piece as well. Digital tools can empower both the teacher and the student and provide added flexibility. Electronic tools can provide a new dimension to the mathematics and provide opportunity for application of their new learning. Digital resources also provide assessment opportunities that can identify short term gaps before they become long-term gaps. These digital resources may be the biggest area of growth we’ve seen in the twenty-first century and it continues to grow daily!
Understanding the math. This may be the most important of all aspects. We teach what we know is important and relevant — and meet standards. But we know students struggle to see the connections. In the past, so much of math was about learning procedures, but we know real understanding comes when students see not just that it works but why it works, and how it is applied. Math is about connecting to the real-world application and understanding relationships.
These understandings are about thinking conceptually as a means of all learning — the foundation.
Here are some ideas to make this happen:
- Provide time for open-ended inquiry and time to explore
- Provide appropriate tools to sue and opportunities to apply it to their world
- Think about representations
- Math ideas need to be talked about and strategies that could be used
Professional development. Just as students need time to apply what they have seen and heard, so do teachers. As stated previously, this takes time. Adopt a partner and attempt new teaching strategies and observe each other. Allow time to sit and collaborate. Stretch yourself by trying something new (grow!) and establish goals. Be frugal — a single goal attempted a year is better than ten never touched. Be realistic about your change. Studies show that teachers will embrace new strategies and practices they have experienced through quality PD. Promote strong PD in your school! Be the change!
Struggle is good. As teachers, we live in a “save me” mode. It’s who we are. Students begin to flounder, and we rush for the save. But pause, set those high expectations, and reach for the stars. This kind of growth and change may be the hardest but by cultivating a growth mindset, you allow the struggle to be meaningful and therefore productive. Struggle is a part of the learning.
Changing how you teach. This is a hard one. We’ve worked for years to cultivate a “teaching style”. But think about a classroom of math learners who engage in the learning — who want to know the math but also want to discover the answer or find a possible solution through exploration or small group work. Thinking beyond a “stand and tell” with math requires real change but the benefits of providing a balance of that understanding with procedural learning promotes an understanding of the math beyond memorization. The goal is of course to create math thinkers who are creative, independent and active learners.
I hope this has stimulated your thoughts on how change can have a positive impact on the classroom — for you, for your students, for the future. Create that math positive environment promoting the change — chances are you’ll close gaps, sincerely meet the needs of every learner and have fun in the process. Think about the future — their future — be the future change for all students! Be the promoter of growth for every student and math for all.
Christie LaFleur is a National Curriculum Specialist with McGraw-Hill. She holds a Masters of Education in Secondary Education from Lamar University and a Bachelor of Science for the University of Texas at Austin. Christie began her teaching career in 1987 in Conroe, Texas and continued to teach middle and high school math in Texas for almost 20 years. She also was also an adjunct professor at Lamar University teaching math/science methods for elementary teachers. Christie presents numerous professional development workshops at state and regional conferences including McGraw-Hill products as well as many original creations.
She is a certified trainer of Dinah Zike Foldables. When Christie is not working with teachers she enjoys spending time at the lake with family and friends.
Beth Minor serves as the Senior National Mathematics Curriculum Specialist with McGraw-Hill. Beth has been in education for over 35 years. Prior to joining McGraw-Hill she was a classroom teacher and mathematics leader in Richmond, Virginia.
As the National Mathematics Curriculum Specialist, Beth is serving all 50 states supporting mathematics instruction in PreK-5. She began her career with McGraw-Hill as an Everyday Mathematics consultant and then became a Curriculum Specialist with the Wright Group Teacher Education Department. Her role as a Curriculum Specialist included the creation and implementation of professional development for districts adopting Everyday Mathematics.