Math at Cold Spring School
Mathematics is beautiful - with its symmetry/asymmetry, simplicity/complexity, concreteness/abstractness; its ever presence in objects and structures humans create, in the works of art we admire; in landscapes, in species of plants and animals, under the deep oceans, and even in space. Math has charmed and intrigued mathematicians, educators, researchers, and poets for centuries!
And - mathematics often evokes feelings of stress, anxiety, self-doubt and frustration. Cultural and gender stereotypes still exist around math. It is acceptable in our culture to not only claim “I’m not a math person” but to suggest that not being a math person might be a genetic trait that can be passed down to offspring. What roles do parents, teachers and schools play in changing some of these mindsets?
Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University and best known for her research on mindsets, writes, “If parents (and teachers) want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning.” At Cold Spring, we strongly believe in creating positive and engaging math environments in which children explore, play, question, and make mistakes - experiences that I assume may have been quite different from our own.
The Everyday Math curriculum helps provide a scope and sequence to guide our math program. Giving children opportunities to demonstrate skills and knowledge through a planned, sequential series of experiences is important. Our Cold Spring math curriculum also increasingly incorporates the work of Jo Boaler, a colleague of Carol Dweck’s at Stanford and Professor of Mathematics Education. Boaler emphasizes the importance of establishing positive norms in classrooms, developing mathematical mindsets, and playing with shapes and numbers.
Cold Spring math classrooms are collaborative and innovative spaces where students continue to learn to communicate their ideas clearly and concisely, listen carefully to others’ thinking and strategies, determine how to compromise and move forward collectively, and continue discussions so that all perspectives are valued. Research has shown that discourse is fundamental to mathematics learning, and our classrooms of elementary mathematicians center student justifications and reasonings, both written and oral. Giving children the opportunity to articulate what they are doing - their thought processes - gives teachers insight into a student’s metacognitive thinking and ability to use math language. Our emphasis on problem solving and mathematical discourse stresses that how we get an answer is oftentimes as important as the answer itself and understanding the ‘why' of mathematics is essential.
I want to invite any of you who might feel like Bob Parr (a.k.a. Mr. Incredible) from The Incredibles 2, the superhero dad who while helping his child with math homework exclaimed - “I don’t know that way. Why would they change math? Math is math. MATH IS MATH!” - to use your child's teachers (or Joshua) as a resource for any questions you might have.
Finally, I often think about what it would personally be like for me if I could rewind time, be a child in math classrooms like Cold Spring’s and embark on a completely different mathematical education. Nevertheless, I feel so hopeful and excited for this generation of thinkers, problem solvers, and mathematicians who will gain new perspectives, adopt growth mindsets, and feel confident in their learning right from the start of their math journey!
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