May 18, 2018: Mathematics

Hello, Black River Falls Community!  This is Dr. Shelly Severson with the School District of Black River Falls here to share this week’s installment of our Spotlight on Schools.  This week I’m going to talk a little bit about one of the foundations of education: mathematics! I believe math is one of those content areas that people either love it or hate it and think they are no good.  This is absolutely one of the challenges of math! Our brains are muscles that are able to grow throughout our life. To state that we aren’t good at math doesn’t do much to inspire that growth mindset. But enough about that...

We have had over twenty teachers working directly with UW-River Falls and UW-Eau Claire on a math grant meant to increase the rigor of math instruction and, most importantly, deepen the understanding of math concepts for all students.  We are really proud of the growth within our staff and students in the area of math!

There is a huge math conference hosted each year in Green Lake, Wisconsin. This year the SDBRF had six teachers presenting sessions at the conference and received outstanding reviews.

Laura Christianson presented on mathematical modeling in the high school classroom.  She presented along with teachers from other districts that are participating in the grant.  When people think about group work and using manipulatives in math, they typically think of the younger classrooms.   They focused their conversations around the fact that teaching the content knowledge was the first step, but teaching the skills and problem-solving strategies are really where the rubber hits the road.  Laura has even transformed her classroom from the traditional rows of desks to collaborative tables to encourage the students to “talk about their thinking” when working on their math problems.

Christy Roush, fifth grade teacher, presented on number talks and using technology as a way to get some quick information during a lesson regarding whether students were understanding the work or not.  What is a number talk? Well, they are short daily exercises aimed at building number sense. Number sense is the ability to play with numbers, meaning students can visualize problem-solving, perform calculations quickly, and are flexible in their math strategy. Students who have strong number sense solve problems in more than one way and check that their answers make sense. During a number talk, students are thinking, asking their peers questions, and explaining their own thinking, all while the teacher records the thinking.  

One of the other foundational pieces of their math grant work has been the idea of persistence! All too often during math class or when students are working on a math problem at home, they will quickly state that they don't get it and will give up.  All staff have worked hard to encourage kids that making mistakes is the only way to learn, that struggle is good and means that the brain is growing, and that it shouldn’t come easy to them!  Kids are afraid of failure and won’t push themselves to persist through a challenge.

All of this is focused on developing a deeper understanding of the “why” behind some of the math rules, trying to develop mathematical thinkers as opposed to memorization.  The staff that have been working with the grant have spent over 200 hundred hours together, and they use the release time on Fridays to share their learning with the rest of their colleagues. Students are already reaping the benefits as we’ve noticed an increased enthusiasm for math as increasing achivement scores.  This is exciting stuff, and we are proud that our staff are on the forefront of this great work throughout the state! Their sessions had standing room only!

As always, thank you for your support of the School District of Black River Falls.  If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me!  Let’s show our Tiger Pride in all that we do!
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