It’s noisy in this Grade 3 class at Brampton’s Eldorado Public School. Students are on the floor, talking in pairs about how many bowls a pet store could use to divide 24 goldfish so each has the same number of fish.
Four. Six. Eight. Three. But not five — unless you cut some fish in half.
It’s a lesson in multiples and fractions, but discovered by students, with the help of a specially trained math teacher.
It’s the future of math education in Ontario.
Eldorado school did something last year that the Ontario government wants all elementary schools to do starting this fall. It hired a math specialist to help teachers become more comfortable teaching “problem-solving and higher-level thinking” in numeracy, said Principal Darren Van Hooydonk.
So numeracy specialist Carlene Powell now spends 80 minutes a week in each primary class, showing teachers how to encourage students to go beyond just reciting facts “but having no concept what they mean,” says Hooydonk.
The idea came from vice-principal Shannon Lee, a former math consultant with the Peel District School Board. She said research shows math classes should be noisy and active “because if students learn by exploring, they’ll retain the information better than if they learned through simple memory.”
Because so many grade school teachers have a humanities background, they’re comfortable teaching language but not as much with math, said Lee. “So it helps to bring in a numeracy specialist.”
“What is the math you see in this picture of fish bowls?” Powell asks the Grade 3 students.
Says one student: “I see it as fractions. If you have four bowls with six fish each, each bowl is one-fourth of the big bowl. If you put them all together, you get the whole bowl.
Powell asks, “What do you call what’s left over if you can’t divide it into equal bowls?”
They know. The remainder.
At 8, Jeeya Dhadwar admits she used to “hate math at the beginning of the year. I thought it was hard.” But with the new hands-on way her teacher Heather Cooke is teaching along with the math specialist, she’s getting a taste for it.
“You actually remember better if you speak to each other about math,” she says as she works on a problem with classmate Mysha Qureshi, who adds, “They challenge us; they don’t give us worksheets. This is way better.”
Teacher Heather Cooke tweets out pictures of kids doing noisy, active math in groups “to show parents the kids are learning, even without textbooks and worksheets. Students get a digital portfolio, and seeing it on social media builds trust with our parents so they don’t ask for worksheets, which is good because worksheets aren’t valuable math,” says Cooke. “You don’t need worksheets to prove math happens.”
Jeevan Singh, 8, likes the new way he learns math since Powell arrived.
“This way is more thinking in your brain, than on paper. It’s better this way, you learn more.”