Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Problem-based Learning

How fortunate we are in our district to have some new, young, enthusiastic, thoughtful teachers who really want to teach ALL kids well… who plan with the kids who need more support and the kids who need more challenge in mind, and who take risks and reflect on their practice.  Ashley Aoki is one of those.  Please enjoy her blog.

Reflections from a third year teacher on her journey in math

I used to: 
- show little interest in math
- rely heavily on textbooks, program, workbooks, notes, assigned pages
- have little collaborative discussions, critical thinking or relfection on strengths and struggles
- allow math to be tedious

Then I registered for a two part math workshop:
The presenter engaged us (as his learners) in open-ended problem solving which we completed on non-permanent vertical surfaces. We worked in small groups, each team was tasked with the challenge of completing the assigned problem and demonstrate our thinking both in written and oral formats. Throughout the time, we (as the learners) were engaging in collaborative discussions, problem solving, critically thinking, accessing background knowledge (what mathematical skillsets do we already know that can help us solve this problem), and learning from other groups. After engaging in the process, I knew this was something that I wanted to include in my math program; the implementation began immediately.  

I am beginning to implement such a process in my classroom with anticipation and excitement. The chalkboards and whiteboards in my classroom were divided and numbered, and I began the lesson by walking around the room with playing cards that matched the numbers on the non-permanent surfaces asking my learners to select one card. Slightly thrown off they began selecting their card and arranging themselves appropriately. I then issued their first problem solving question orally

How Many 7’s?
If you write out the numbers from 1 to 1000,
 how many times will you write the number 7?
[from Peter Lilijedahl,  http://www.peterliljedahl.com/teachers/good-problem - December 2017]

and watched as student stood at their space both perplexed and confused by such a question. Then, the magic happened! My learners began writing numbers on the board, discussing with their teammates, erasing their original answers, adding to their new ones, and adjusting their work based on their teams combined knowledge. The classroom was filled with an electric energy as learners tried to complete a problem that didn’t have one “right way” to solve it. As the classroom teacher, I had the opportunity to circulate around the classroom noticing the progress being made and asking questions to continue probing deeper thinking such as “How do you know you’ve written every 7?” “Are you confident this is the answer? How do you know?” 

Possibly one of the most exciting components for me was noting how long my learners took to wrestle with the problem (about 35 minutes), discuss possible answers with their peers, and engage in the math in meaningful ways. Completing the work on non-permanent surfaces allowed several opportunities for my learners to easily erase, replace, or completely try their work again from scratch. After about 35 minutes we, as a classroom community, gathered around one of the boards and invited the small group to explain their thinking, process, and reasoned answer to their peers. We then reflected as a large group on our learning answering questions such as: “What was the purpose of the activity?” “What are we learning by engaging in this and using this model?”. The answers ranged from “building our teamwork skills” “working on math” “communicating with others” and “working with a different group of people”.

This purposeful activity has made its way into my math routine and I haven’t looked back! I too am learning and teaching “through a different lens”.

Submitted by: Ashley Aoki, SD #67 Teacher

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