October 5, 2023

Making Meaning in Math

How has math changed at Oakwood over the last couple of years?

The elementary school started a new math curriculum last year called Illustrative Math, which is problem-based. It’s a great curriculum and one that I believe in fully, as does the administration. The idea is that kids are able to explore concepts, make meaning for themselves, and eventually figure out the algorithm on their own. This is as opposed to learning by memorization. This allows kids to construct their own understanding and hopefully retain that information longer because they weren’t just told what to do or how to solve a problem. The focus is more on the process than the answer. 

How would you define the term “growth mindset” and how do you think it applies to math at Oakwood?

A growth mindset is believing that one’s talents and abilities can be developed through hard work and learning, while a fixed mindset is believing that one’s talents are innate and unchangeable. A fixed mindset is believing that you’re either a math person or not a math person and a growth mindset is the idea that anyone can be successful at math—that’s something that I believe in 100%. Having a growth mindset is knowing that anyone can become really good at math. It just takes resilience, grit, and perseverance.

Tell us more about the math culture at Oakwood…

In my short time here, it’s clear to me that math isn’t about memorization. The focus is on learning, making meaning, and communicating those ideas verbally or in written form. Students are used to being told to show their work and explain their thinking. By doing this, we deemphasize the importance of the answers. The priority in an Oakwood math classroom is deep understanding.

How are you best supporting students this year? 

One of the roles that I wanted to take on this year was to be directly involved with students. Some of these students need support for various reasons. Others are looking for ways to expand their already strong math background. Though teachers work hard to engage all of their students, I believe that with my background, I can help positively impact all types of learners.

How do students draw on what they learned in previous years?

The program certainly builds on itself, but there’s also an understanding of certain skills: self-advocacy, communicating different strategies, the focus not being on the answer, but more on the process. That’s something that’s seen consistently throughout the grades.

Is one of the benchmarks to math proficiency seeing how you can apply math to other areas of your life?

Surely, a goal of the math department is to promote math literacy—being able to reason, analyze, and problem-solve. Life doesn’t often give us opportunities to solve equations, for example, but the thinking and skills that go into this can be applied to many aspects of life. After being in many classrooms during my first few months at Oakwood, I haven’t seen skill-based lessons that aren’t connected to some real-life situation. As a result, I don’t hear, “Why are we learning this?” That must be a good sign. 

Tell us about the importance of the student-teacher relationship.

The role of a math teacher is so important and goes far beyond teaching the concepts. It’s really about establishing relationships and making it clear that everybody can be successful in math. Once that is established and students feel safe, real learning can happen. That’s when a math teacher can push kids out of their comfort zone with challenging questions and be less worried about emotional responses because trust has already been established. 

What is the most rewarding part of teaching for you?

Watching a student’s confidence grow is what really makes my day. I am passionate about inspiring kids who don’t consider themselves to be good at math to eventually embrace math as something they enjoy.  I’ve worked with all kinds of students—all ability levels and cultural backgrounds—and it’s so important to see kids as individuals and know that really, I can say confidently that  anyone can be successful in math. It’s just something I love.