Grade 6/7 Special Education Teacher, at St. Andrew Catholic School, Halton Catholic District School Board

Shift from rote application to critical thinking

I recall math being an isolation exercise when I was in school. Content was delivered, you worked through 1 or 2 sample questions as a class and hopefully understood the concept well enough that you could apply it independently with some level of confidence and consistency until you moved on to the next chapter.

We’ve made a considerable shift in the way we approach teaching and learning mathematics today, where the focus is on collaboration and conversation to build our foundational knowledge.

Knowledge building through student-led discourse

As a launch point for our unit on percentages I gave the students some basic questions I wanted them to work in groups to answer, as well as a sample problem. I asked questions like, what are percentages? What do they represent? How do we calculate them?

Students were confident that they knew the answers to these questions, but struggled to communicate their knowledge to peers when asked to record their thinking on Wipebook Flipcharts. Through conversation they were able to answer these questions, but more importantly, share thoughts that helped illustrate their thinking and build their confidence.

Making thinking visible

Using vertical space (VNPS) encourages student participation and helps everyone feel immersed in group problem solving. Students were in small groups and could easily share their thinking, or take a glance at other groups to see what they had recorded on their Wipebook Flipchart. This facilitated great student-led discussion around some proofs of what percents are, what they thought they knew about the topic (needed to understand tax, interest, percent chance, always out of 100) and new key learnings like applications for percents greater than 100, which they don’t see as often.

Group problem solving

Using Wipebook Flipcharts helped make students’ thinking visible. They were able to discuss different strategies each group used, which helped them broaden their perspective and strengthen their understanding. Instead of their math work living in a notebook, this helps students become comfortable sharing their ideas and gain confidence by using each others’ knowledge to build their own toolbox of math strategies.

There you have it

The reality is that this type of problem solving is similar to what students will encounter in the real world. With emerging industries and the landscape of a “typical” job changing, skills such as innovation, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking are necessary in order for students to succeed.

I believe that it is imperative for students to begin developing these qualities schools in school settings in order to build a comfort level with them. The use of #vnps and #vgr is key in helping students develop these areas - I would highly encourage all educators to try them out with their students!