In 2015, National Geographic published an article that discusses a phenomenon called our “number reflex”. According to the research by Dr. Elizabeth Brannon at Duke University, we are all born with a deep instinct for numbers. If you have ever struggled in a mathematics class, you might feel that your instinctual number reflex is lagging. In the Little School and Junior School, it has been our goal for the past year and a half to celebrate our learning in mathematics and stretch our number reflex professionally so that our students can do likewise. In order to accomplish this, we have dug deep into educational research, secured new mathematics resources, and partnered with two mathematics specialists.
The educational research is clear: a supportive and engaging classroom environment is critical to help develop mathematical understanding and confidence. Unusual ideas, thinking and creative algorithms developed by students are accepted and valued in classrooms where enduring understanding is prioritized and mathematical agency is the goal. At York House School, we are committed to creating and sustaining these classrooms. Our girls know that all ideas are welcome, even unconventional ones, during Number Talks. A Number Talk is a way to have structured discussions about mathematical thinking. Girls are asked to explain their ideas, justify their thinking, and question one another on their work in order to grow confidence and understanding of simple, or complex, numbers, and operations.
Our young learners are playful and curious when it comes to mathematics. Our teachers know that girls learn by doing, thinking, and talking. In order to facilitate a concrete understanding of ideas we have purchased a number of new math manipulatives. Manipulatives are tools that are designed to help represent mathematical ideas in a hands-on way. For example, every class has been introduced to Cuisenaire Rods, developed by mathematician Georges Cuisenaire. The rods are used to explore proportional reasoning including addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and fractions. Our girls have delighted in making connections to complex understandings through hands-on activities designed to draw out the Big Ideas of the BC Curriculum.
Lastly, professional learning is a priority at YHS. We have been fortunate to secure the support and expertise of Carole Fullerton and Robert Sidley to partner with our faculty to develop a scope and sequence for learning as well as focusing on how to mathematize everyday situations and problems. Carole Fullerton is a teacher leader working in K-12 classrooms to support the development of numeracy instruction across BC, Alberta, the territories, and beyond. Addressing student diversity through rich questions, teaching through problem-solving and planning around the Big Math Ideas are essential aspects of her practice. Through collaborative work and lesson demonstrations at YHS, Carole has engaged our students and teachers in thoughtful investigations of what it means to DO math: learning through exploration, talk and play. Robert Sidley is a private consultant and author, he has worked with over 20 school districts across Western Canada, supporting teachers towards delivering learning experiences which are hands-on and minds-on, using problem solving to build conceptual understanding and meaning making in mathematics. Robert is currently a Doctoral candidate at Simon Fraser University engaged teaching pre-service teachers and in research on student affect, belief change, student improvement, and thinking classrooms.
We are on an exciting adventure of learning in mathematics in the Little School and Junior School! With a focus on educational research, an abundance of new mathematical resources and exciting partnerships for professional learning, it is clear that we are committed to excellence in teaching and learning math. Our collective number reflex is growing!