Jared Hamilton, Mathematics Teacher, British Columbia, Canada.
My name is Jared Hamilton, and I am a mathematics teacher in northern British Columbia, Canada. I’ve worn several hats in my teaching career including, elementary, middle and high school, while also working as a mentor and a numeracy coach. Two years ago, I was introduced to Thinking Classrooms, which included having students work in visible random pairs and using vertical non-permanent surfaces as a strategy to help students think critically about mathematics, collaborate with a partner, and ask meaningful questions about what they are learning, why it matters, and what they can do next. Thinking Classrooms also supported my assessment philosophies following the gradeless classroom. Going gradeless is about shifting students' mindsets away from grades, getting them to focus on real time feedback about their progress, and to reflect on their reasons for learning. The conversations not only guide and support learning, but also support relationship building and community within the classroom as we learn and work together.
Given the shortage of vertical non-permanent surfaces in the room, and the “pane” of having access to no windows, I started looking for an online solution. Here is where I learned about Wipebooks and was able to order a class set for the students that I wanted to engage in this model. I am a big believer in the Thinking Classrooms model for helping both students and teachers engage in rich conversations about mathematics and building competencies such as problem solving, logic and reasoning. Beyond academics, Thinking Classrooms are fun and engaging. Wipebooks offered students a large, easy to use and safe surface to explore their thinking with a partner.
Now enter the pandemic. COVID-19 resulted in my district switching to a remote learning model last spring, with staff and students learning together digitally from home. I not only found myself working as a math teacher and numeracy coach, but also a teacher for my own children who would also be at home with us. A rewarding juggling act for sure, but one that I am happy I am no longer trying to balance. While Wipebooks continued to serve me in remote teaching as a visual aid for my digital lessons and coaching sessions, I came to learn a new appreciation for them as a tool that I could use in my own children’s education.
BUILDING COMPETENCIES THROUGH PARTICIPATION
It didn’t take long for my young children to notice the several Wipebooks I had placed around the house, nor did it take long for them to ask what they were. I explained to my kids they were “daddy’s portable whiteboards” and that I could write things on them with coloured pens that I could erase when finished. “They help daddy’s students and friends talk about math,” I told them.
My children wasted no time in asking to try, so I agreed and gave them a marker to see what they would do. My daughter, who was in grade one at the time, started to draw a beautiful flower, while my two sons in pre-school scribbled with the marker all over their Wipebooks. They were having so much fun! I loved asking them questions and listening to their answers. “What type of flower did you draw?” with my daughter replying “a rose because it’s my favourite flower”. My middle son described his scribbles as a picture of himself spinning in a circle, and my youngest asked me to draw a picture of him and let me trace his body around the Wipebook before we started to draw the details of his face, clothes, and body.
The Wipebooks were such a friendly and safe surface to let my children play, explore, and get comfortable holding a marker and writing while standing up. They were so proud and excited to be doing work “just like daddy”. It also allowed me to play with my children on a different level, and share ideas of what we could do next. When my daughter was unhappy with what she had on the Wipebook, it was effortless to show her how easy it was to erase the marker and fix it, helping her see it was okay to make a mistake. We could fix it. Even my sons, who accidentally coloured on the wall with the dry erase markers, saw that I was able to clean up the wall with a Mr. Clean Dry Eraser. It was cleanable, done.
GUIDED LEARNING & GO-TO DEVICE FOR INQUIRY
Within the third week of remote learning, my daughter and I were comfortable using the Wipebook to work on her class work such as spelling, art, and math. She was able to write several patterns on the Wipebook, counting by 2s, 5s, and 10s. I asked her to try new patterns like counting by 20s and 100s, and watched her use her previous work to make the new patterns. “Counting by 20s is easy because all you do is add a zero to the 2s pattern. It’s easy, see,” she would tell me. We were also able to discuss place value and how we name and group numbers.
Working on double digit subtraction concepts together, I noticed something very interesting about my daughter’s thought process. When solving the problem 23 - 16, she first solved 20 - 10 = 10, then she did 3 - 6 which was -3. Taking 3 away from 10 she got her answer of 7. My daughter was doing her subtraction from left to right and was using negative numbers.
I asked her how she got her answer. She told me “I started with the tens numbers because place value says they’re bigger than ones so more important. Then I did the ones, but three take away 6 is -3, like on a number line. If the weather said it was 3 degrees, and you took 6 away it would be -3 degrees. That means it’s cold.” Similar to my experience in the classroom, I was able to have an amazing number talk with my child about how she thought about numbers, and how she used her experiences to arrive at an answer to a problem visually.
I loved how having a Wipebook in our home allowed us to explore her mathematical thinking and show her ideas. What started as a surface for play and exploration, soon became our go-to surface for learning and talking about mathematics. It gave us an amazing visual support device to showcase our ideas, and for me to help my daughter make new connections by having her draw the lesson concepts. Whether building number sense, exploring phonics and syllables, or having fun drawing out the water cycle, a Wipebook served as our go-to surface for learning.
As both an educator and a father, my greatest appreciation however was for the experience of joy I shared with my daughter during these times. I loved our conversations and the time we spent together talking about math. Our celebrations were always focused on the processes of our learning that we shared together in our talks; we never talked about grades. Even though my daughter is probably too young to buy into grade incentive learning, the idea that she focused on the process rather than the product of learning exceeded my expectations of gradeless assessment. The imagination and availability of Wipebooks played a huge role in getting my daughter excited about learning math by having one at her fingertips at any point.
Remote learning came and went, and the start of the fall has us all back to in-person learning, albeit with social distancing. Even though I’m no longer teaching my daughter every day at home, Wipebooks still hang on our walls and serve as our go-to device every time we have a question we want to explore. Whether we’re doubling a recipe or learning how to add up the total pounds and ounces of all the bass we catch in a fishing video game. Anytime we have a question, the answers we seek start with our large erasable white surface and a package of colourful markers. It’s an experience I continue to share with my daughter, who is now in grade two, my son in kindergarten, and my youngest who still doodles and scribbles his pictures.
Wipebooks continue to serve me as a teacher in the classroom supporting the mathematical education of our young learners. They promote conversations and relationship building, and focus assessment on the competencies of learning rather than the end grade product. Wipebooks are easily accessible and affordable for teachers in the classroom. My experiences during remote learning have taught me that the above holds true for home learning too. Wipebooks can easily be used by students and parents at home to provide students an affordable, safe, large, erasable surface they can use to explore their learning with the members of their household. I am excited to have Wipebooks as a tool in my teaching, and I strongly encourage others to experience my joy and purchase one themselves. Give it a try and see what you’ll discover as your reason why.
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