JK-12 Program department develops several methods of learning math
Near North District School Board’s (NNDSB) K-12 program team has been busy brainstorming, developing, and implementing new and engaging ways for students to learn math from JK-12. The team is also working towards de-streaming the Grade 9 math curriculum.
“Math should not be seen as an abstract subject that doesn’t have any daily use,” says Math Facilitator Melissa Peddie. “Once you start seeing mathematics as a way we can interpret the world around us, you realize that it is absolutely everywhere. It’s an ultimate goal of educators to help students mathematize their environment so that they can use those math skills to move them forward in every aspect of their life.”
There are two board-based math facilitators, and nine school-based math facilitators within the board’s target schools, all of whom work alongside Peddie to support the implementation of the provincial math strategy.
What does a math facilitator do?
“My title is JK to 12 math facilitator. I work with teachers in a classroom-embedded, co-planning, co-teaching professional learning model,” says Peddie. “I support principals as they’re making school improvement plans particularly as they relate to mathematics. I am also responsible for providing central professional development to teachers across the board.”
Chris Walkling is a regional K-12 Student Achievement and Well-Being Principal who works alongside the various teams.
“Working as a student achievement and well-being principal, Laurie Forth, Steve Krause and I work as a team in a JK-12 capacity,” he explains. “With our focus on mathematics, we work closely with Melissa and Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Melanie Gray, in schools as well as at the system-level to support the implementation of curriculum and ultimately, to improve outcomes for students. Our team designs and implements professional learning that enables staff to respond to evolving student needs. “
While mathematics stays the same, the ways students learn and remain engaged, along with how educators teach the material, continues to develop.
“I also am designing and developing different resources to support the work that we’re doing for student success. There’s a lot of collaboration, bringing in teachers with different perspectives to develop math assessment and teaching resources. We’ve had a major focus on developing number sense and supporting teacher understanding of what that means,” notes Peddie. “I’ve developed resources for the Classroom Support Centre to be signed out by educators, to support student learning and provide background information for teachers to develop their own understanding around number sense development.”
The Classroom Support Centre is a specialized NNDSB department that provides services and catalogued resources for educators to support their instructional practices. These include learning resources and kits for students to use in the classroom, educator resources, access to virtual resources such as videos and support with producing materials for classroom use.
Peddie adds that teachers have really embraced the evolution of learning, which includes their own learning.
“In talking with teachers, a lot have said they’ve had some great learning for themselves, to support them in being prepared to meet a variety of learners’ needs in their classrooms. Reflecting on the last couple of years, taking this understanding of what really good pedagogy looks like in math, and then considering the shift to online learning due to COVID-19 protocols, we’ve worked to bring a focus on the important pieces of this good pedagogy that we can still hold on to and leverage with these new constraints,” she says.
The math curriculum has really evolved over the last five years.
“One of the big changes would be teachers understanding how children learn math, and we’ve done a lot of work with learning trajectories. If you could think about a series of skills mapped out over time as being “stepping stones”, generally speaking, there’s an order to how children develop those skills and they get increasingly complex,” explains Walkling. “I think using learning trajectories and developing staff understanding of how those skills build over time, staff have become much more intentional. So, they can name with precision, where students are on that path, and meet them where they are at and support developmentally appropriate next steps, incremental nudges or steps towards success.”
There’s a strong consensus on how mathematics has evolved over a short period of time.
Mathematics hasn’t changed, but how it’s taught has adapted into a more compressive approach, thanks to research and a better understanding of how students learn.
“If you had just said five years, I would have definitely talked about a huge shift in learning for educators in terms of understanding how students develop number sense in particular, and how number sense impacts other areas of learning,” notes Peddie. “It’s the foundation that connects almost every area of mathematics. Once we have a handle on how students develop number sense right from Kindergarten all the way through into secondary school, then we become better math educators.”
One of the crucial changes is de-streaming the Grade 9 math curriculum. Streamed math refers to when students enter Grade 9, they are channelled through either the applied stream or an academic stream that sets them on the path for post-secondary studies. The streamed model has proven to not be as effective as once thought, thus the shift towards de-streaming all secondary school subjects.
“Right now, we’re working with the de-streamed Grade 9 mathematics teachers to support them in navigating the de-streamed programming,” says Peddie. “We’re exploring student learning profiles, new math curriculum expectations, along with resources and pedagogies to support de-streamed math learning environments.”
Gray notes how the hard work that Peddie and the team have put into developing and re-defining the way math is administered has put NNDSB in an excellent position for learning.
“A lot of the work that Melissa, supported by Chris, had done over the years, really put us in a good place to move forward with being able to be creative. A specific example is Melissa worked with so many educators across our system to help them develop an understanding of a pedagogical move called Number Talks and I can’t tell you how many classes I was able to jump into, in terms of their online learning to see those educators doing a version of number talks.”
Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) is another important recent development to the math curriculum, but as Peddie states, NNDSB was already brainstorming these aspects, which includes maintaining positive motivation and perseverance, thinking creatively, and developing self-awareness skills.
“We were already having these conversations in terms of mathematics. We have a resource developed by Jane Rutledge and me called the First X Days of Mathematics and it’s for classrooms, primary all the way up to intermediate. It sets a foundation for developing positive mindsets about students seeing themselves as mathematicians,” exclaims Peddie. “In the classroom, students are engaged in interesting challenging mathematic tasks that allow them to think creatively reflecting on themselves as mathematicians, and really broadening that idea of what is it to be a mathematician, and we’re all mathematicians.”
Peddie notes helping students develop an understanding of perseverance in mathematics is a big part of social-emotional learning.
Building off social-emotional learning, there are numerous learning platforms that Peddie and the math team have implemented for students to build upon their math skills. One of the platforms is DreamBox Learning.
“DreamBox is specifically for Grades 1-3 students this year and it’s an online resource that’s adaptive to student needs,” says Peddie. “It differentiates what lessons and what games students play to build their math understanding based on individual student starting points. Through these tasks in DreamBox Learning, students engage in productive struggle.”
Once students work their way through the lessons, teachers are able to provide feedback for the learners. Though not new to NNDSB, DreamBox Learning has found its way to becoming a valuable resource for students.
“We ultimately determined that there was a significant value in placing that resource in the primary level, gamified learning beyond school, and a general level of engagement that was very well received and beneficial for students in primary,” notes Walkling. “When we think how that’s different than maybe some other tools that are out there is that the representations of math in DreamBox, are similar and consistent with the tools that kids use in the classroom. If you think about the “rekenrek” or about “number lines”, all of those representations are familiar to students and they’re also present in the game. So, there’s a nice relationship there. But beyond that, the program documents all of the interactions that students have in the online environment and maps those experiences to the Ontario curriculum, allowing staff to monitor and respond to evolving student needs.”
Rekenrek is a tool that translates to an arithmetic rack or calculating frame. The rekenrek is a unique tool that allows children to develop number sense at their own pace.
“This is a really exciting time for us as a school board. With a fresh take on a multi-year strategic plan, new board improvement plans, more cohesiveness across all our departments, we are going to be able to plan as specifically as possible and set those goals,” says Gray. “I love listening to Melissa and Chris talk about math. From the system level, I do believe that we are a strong team and we’re well-positioned with the aforementioned plans.”
The board receives funding from the Ministry of Education to purchase resources that align with the new math curricula, support professional learning opportunities for staff, and hire school and board-based math leads. All of these investments contribute to NNDSB’s efforts to improve student outcomes in mathematics and ensure their success after secondary school.
What are Peddie and Walkling’s favourite parts of the job?
“For me, being in the classrooms with teachers and students, co-teaching, co-planning, listening to student thinking, talking with teachers about what they’re noticing, collaborating at all those components,” says Peddie.
“I would say the moment that students have an ‘aha’, and all of a sudden it clicks! And in that same moment, the educators have the means to see the impact of their actions. To see that their efforts have improved outcomes or enabled understandings for students. These little ‘mastery moments’ allow staff to see that their actions have impact, and they’re making a difference for students,” says Walkling.
With the chances of probability and other math lessons, the learning opportunities and platforms are not a random addition for NNDSB.
“It’s not just happenstance, we spend a long time looking at the quality of the resource and how it connects to what we know already works, the pedagogy that’s in place or pedagogy we want to further develop and how does this resource support educators in making those connections,” says Peddie.