Western School Division Numeracy Coach Korina Peters guides teachers in a reflective approach to teaching math through modelling lessons in the classroom, assessing student learning together. It's part of supporting teachers through the Manitoba Rural Learning Consortium (mRLC) Numeracy Achievement Program (NAP), aimed at encouraging teachers to try different teaching practices to find the most effective ways to improve student learning in math. 

Peters supports 30 teachers through NAP, providing a safe place to answer these three questions.  

1. What are the learning targets?  

2. Where are the students in relation to those targets?  

3. What are the teacher’s/student’s next steps towards the learning targets?  

Grade four teacher, Rhonda Thompson from Minnewasta School said, "Students’ confidence in math has increased due to spiraling within the teaching sequence and the reach back strategies I am using. My own confidence as a teacher has improved because I’m seeing my students’ confidence improve due to my targeted and intentional teaching using the feedback from the nap formative quizzes."  

While it’s not a new program, this two-year training of teachers is seeing great results for students since it was implemented for grades 6-9 in 2015/16 and has since expanded to grades 4-9. 

"At the Gr. 6 level the average score on 16 out of 24 outcomes assessed in June each year, using the NAP Baseline Assessment, have improved 20% or more since 2016." 

Peters is a resource for all teachers grades k-8 and recently shared with WSD trustees about a new approach to teaching and learning math for all ages.  

"Building Thinking Classrooms" was created by Simon Fraser University Professor Peter Liljedahl who said, "If we want students to think, then we have to give them something to think about vs not just mimic our steps and procedures."  

Peters agreed.  

"One of the things that we've noticed overtime is that a more traditional style of teaching mathematics, where the teacher leads students through steps and procedures, and the students just follow that along and mimic those steps doesn't actually benefit us in leading students to be problem solvers."  

Student sitting at a white board.

A shift is being made to teaching math through problem solving.  

"The Building Thinking Classrooms approach is where we're putting rich problems in front of students and then having them bring the skills and knowledge that they have already learned to that task. But through solving, it worked towards expanding their mathematical thinking and their problem-solving skills through that. Then at the end of the lesson, that's where the teacher brings it all together to help the students make sense of the journey they went on, what they've learned, and how their thinking has changed and grown."  

Students are put into groups, assigned a Thinking Board, and then stand at the board to work towards a solution. 

"And the idea of them standing has shown that then the kids are far more engaged. In interrupts their passivity sitting at their desk. So having them standing, working in random groups on a vertical, non-permanent surface like a whiteboard for example, has shown that they're willing to take more risks, they'll engage sooner. They're willing to take more risks in their learning, to try different strategies and ways of thinking about the math." 

She added while data shows students are improving, it is most rewarding to hear them ask for more time for Think Boards, noting they want to learn this way and can show their work better on paper when the time comes. 

"By putting problem solving contexts out there first, instead of just having a word problem at the end of the unit type thing, by having that word problem there and that problem solving context all the way along, it brings more purpose and value to mathematics for the students. They understand, they can realize this is where I would use this in life. This is why it's important. It sends a message that we believe in them to be problem solvers. They're more engaged and it requires them to do more thinking."  

Student standing at a white board.

Peters said teachers can better observe active learning and hear how students think in the classroom better this way.  

"So, although we see and hear comments about ‘New Math’ happening, the math itself has not changed.  The way we are teaching it has in order to ensure we are helping our students to be engaged, mathematical thinkers and sense makers."