Thoughts on Marian Small’s Math Leadership Conference

I had the honour of spending a day learning from Marian Small and Doug Duff. It was a day that both invigorated me in my math learning, and gave some practical next steps for me to use. They were both passionate and knowledgeable, and I can’t stress how they helped me consolidate my thinking around math instruction.

I’m going to unpack some of my favourite tweets from throughout the day, share my learnings and where I am headed. While each may sound as if I am stressing my own ideas, they are derived from the facilitation of both Marian Small and Doug Duff:

Intentionality was the overarching theme to the day. And if I can guess what Marian and Doug think, is that this is the one key piece missing right now. No matter what you do as a classroom, school or board, if you do so with intentionality and clear vision of purpose, the students will improve. This intentionality will drive the criteria for the lesson, which in turn drives the assessment, which in turn drives the instruction. Knowing the specific goal, beyond just the strand that you are teaching, makes the lesson/problems goal oriented, and makes creating criteria that much easier.

I feel that I get misinterpreted on this point often. I never want anyone to think that striving to get a reasonable answer is not important to me. It’s just not the most important part of the problem solving portion of the lesson. Identifying good thinking, and understanding how the process succeeded and failed moves students along and provides them with flexibility in thinking. EGiving problems where is there isn’t one “right” answer, make the students justify their answer AND provide a platform for much richer math conversation.

This was a key piece of learning for me. I have been doing far too much sharing in my consolidation time. I need to use the intentionality of the problem, and focus on that intention when examining student work as a whole. And if that intention doesn’t show, then focusing on direct teaching at that point. I have avoided some direct teaching thinking that if the students don’t come up with it, then I need to draw it out from them. I have will stop waiting, and get to the point more quickly. I think this is why problem solving gets a bad reputation for taking too long to teach a particular topic/idea. The intentionality drives the learning forward.

This is where the intentionality spreads from the classroom to the school level. Making sure that conversations happen at a staff level, and moving forwards as a whole school, bring consistency to the messages going home with students and parents. We need to decide what is most important as a staff so that we build our programs together. The consistent message of models and their use, will mean that students will see math as a progression, rather than a choppy jump from each teacher’s favourite strategy year to year.

I would love to chat further with anyone who wants to! Math, like good math problems, doesn’t always have right answers. It does, however, has some great ideas about how to get to our final destination.