Minds On Mathematics Book Study

Chapter 2 is all about “Teaching the Tools”: so, actually teaching the thinking skills necessary to be a mathematician. (What a novel concept!) I loved this chapter, because it addressed my concerns about how to get kids to be great thinkers without just saying “Okay, let’s think hard about this.”  After being trained in the Common Core Standards of Mathematical Practice (hereafter known as SMP) and in Common Core work this year, and in working with great math teachers who have been pushing my Professional Learning Team (PLT: a group of teachers who teach the same grade level and content) into Common Core Standards for two years, I am eager and anxious to incorporate SMP into my lessons every day. But, I’ve found that in my classroom what really happens is that a student will read the SMP standard aloud without knowing what it’s asking of them. For example: “Today, we’re going to make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.” (SMP #1) The other kids  say, “Yeah Miss, okay, we can do that!” …Fast forward to the kids giving up the minute that a problem “looks too hard” and me feeling frustrated because we’re not persevering… or something.

Chapter 2 lists the skills that all mathematicians need: those in the SMP, those of the 21st century learner, and thinking strategies. Not to play favorites, but I really loved the “Thinking Strategies” part of the chapter. Thinking strategies come from research on proficient readers done in the 1980s by David Pearson and his colleagues (Hoffer, 26). I have taught a reading support class in the past, and we constantly hammer reading strategies into the minds of our students. Now, I haven’t taught that support class for 2 years, but I think of them every day in my head and in every professional development class I have taken with my fellow math comrades. I have asked myself over and over again, “What are the math strategies for kids?” It was so nice to get an actual list of strategies to teach my students so that they can access the math content in the same way that readers access a text! I’m so excited about these that I’m going to list them here: 

  • Asking questions
  • Determining importance
  • Drawing on back group knowledge
  • Inferring
  • Making mental models
  • Monitoring for meaning
  • Synthesizing

Frankly, they aren’t much different from the reading strategies I taught to my struggling readers and to my Geography students, and I feel better because I have taught these in my classroom before! 

Then, Hoffer gives you a workshop model for how to teach these SMP skills (as in, teaching kids how to actually persevere — and perhaps what that word means) along with other skills. In looking at the model that Hoffer lays out, I honestly became quite overwhelmed, and was thinking that she was recommending that these be taught individually as lessons on each skill. I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to take valuable weeks (yes, there are that many skills — it could take 2-3 weeks to teach each skill individually) out of my curriculum time to teach each one. Huzzah! I don’t have to! Each skill can be taught in tandem with the common core standard you happen to be working on. (Insert sigh of relief here.) Hoffer suggests starting with a learning target, then finding an appropriate process learning goal that supports your learning target and can be practiced over time. Teach the skill and the content together!

Mrs. K