Integrating Math: A School-wide Curricular Initiative

Camila Chaudron '08

August 26, 2014

“What skill are you trying to develop with this exercise?” This was one of the many questions Cathy Fosnot, a leading math education expert, posed to faculty at New Perspectives on Teaching Mathematics. Comprised of two workshops, the professional development opportunity was held on Punahou’s campus and ran from Aug. 11 – 14, 2014. Nearly 40 Punahou math teachers, as well as pre-kindergarten teachers from Hanahau‘oli School, curriculum resource specialists from Kamehameha Schools and teachers from Wai‘alae Elementary Public Charter School, attended each of the events.

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Fosnot, a professor emeritus of education at the City College of New York and frequent math consultant on the national level, also presented at the School in 2013. She returned to campus this summer to address more specific lesson ideas with faculty.

The workshops were broken down into two sections: the first two days focused on “developing a landscape of learning,” with a focus on multiplication and division. Both Junior School and Academy faculty attended this section of the workshop, giving participants a holistic view of the evolution of the math program at Punahou, from kindergarten to high school.

Assistant Principal Paula Hodges attended the first section of the workshop, as did members of a Learning Fellowship, including as Academy math faculty Jennifer Hong ’92 and Lynette Horinouchi, who are investigating ways to implement problem-based geometry into the high school math curriculum. Middle-school faculty also attended the workshop, which “opened doors for dialogue across the School’s math teachers, who can develop collaborative strategies for their math curriculum,” said JoAnn Wong-Kam, Punahou’s K – 1 supervisor and organizer of the event.

Fosnot recognized the different requirements of each age level, but certain math lessons apply across the board: “You need the exercises to get progressively more difficult,” she said, explaining that teachers should start with easier problems, the ones they know their students can get, and then challenge them to reach outside of their comfort zone.

The third and fourth days of the workshop focused on analyzing, crafting and implementing mini-lessons. Fosnot presented specific tools that have been proven to aid pre-K – grade 5 students learn mathematical concepts rather than rote memorization of numbers. For example, Fosnot recommended that faculty keep a math rack, similar to a simplified abacus, near their desks for quick, one- to five-minute “mini-lessons” to visually demonstrate the concepts of addition and subtraction when student-generated questions come up in context.

Faculty were encouraged to work independently as well as collaboratively: “I know social interaction is important, but try to work by yourself first and then test to see if your ideas work,” Fosnot urged. Once the participants had designed their own exercises related to the goals they developed, faculty took turns presenting lessons and receiving feedback from their colleagues on the effectiveness of their lessons.

“Cathy’s methods are helpful because they emphasize deep understanding of number sense. Rather than just jumping right into difficult equations, she uses stories and math manipulatives that children can grasp. Then, when children start working with more abstract math work, they are grounded by that ability to visualize the values they are working with,” explained Alegre Bernstein ’07, grade 1 assistant teacher at Punahou.

“We evaluate where the children are on an individual level and adapt our lessons to make them more applicable across the spectrum. No two people are the same, so the classes aren’t the same. Instead, we emphasize rigor and high expectations,” Wong-Kam elaborated.

Susan Fushikoshi-Fung, a grade 1 teacher at Punahou, reflected: “Last year, Cathy explained her curriculum, but this year she gave us more tools to implement her methods in the classroom. She gave us the wings – and confidence – to have our students soar.”

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