Learning

Removing barriers to learning is fundamental to our work as educators. One way to do this is to approach lesson design through a multidisciplinary lens, taking natural advantage of the variety of skills, dispositions, and individual levels of interests inherent in each one. Planning lessons, units or courses specifically from a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math) approach can open up learning experiences to a range of learners because of both content-driven intersection points and the interdisciplinary impetus for inquiry and investigation.
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Imagine two classrooms. In the first, a general education teacher and a special education teacher work separately. The general education teacher takes the lead on instruction and the special education teacher assists and provides additional support, focusing primarily on students with an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). Communication between the teachers revolves around logistics such as time management. There is little common planning time; each teacher plans independently for their specific students.
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The beginning of the school year is filled with excitement and anticipation. There are materials to prepare and organize, lessons to plan, and classrooms to set up. As teachers, we think carefully about the norms, structures, and routines that we want to establish. Everything from housekeeping to how we communicate with each other to how we move about the classroom contribute to students feeling safe to share their thinking, take risks, and solve problems.
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Maria is a second-grader who has a lot going for her at school. She is a strong reader and well-liked by her peers. However, sometimes she struggles in math. Long directions and multi-step problems can be challenging; it’s difficult for her to hold on to multiple pieces of information in working memory. Maria is aware of these challenges, as her teacher and parents have had conversations with her about them. From these conversations, she also knows that she has several strengths in math. She has a strong number sense and a good grasp of spatial relationships, which help her to be successful when working on problems involving shapes. Even though she knows that she is a good math student, she is aware that there are also certain areas in math where she might need extra help and that she needs to work on them to make improvements.
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You may ask yourself, “Who in my class has the potential to do well in math?” The resounding response must be that all children can succeed in math and even find pleasure in doing mathematical tasks (Boaler, 2016). Proficiency in mathematical concepts and competency with mathematical skills are not singular to a particular child, nor is there a certain group of children predisposed to be mathematicians (Boaler, 2016). Math is for ALL; it should be inclusive, transcending labels such as gender, classification (i.e., general education and special education) and ethnicity, among others.
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Games are fun. Games are also challenging. Developing a strategy, improving skills, the ups and downs of winning and learning—these all are important components of games. When students engage in mathematical games, many don’t necessarily realize they are doing or learning mathematics but when students practice or apply something they already know or understand, there is growth.
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In our October Math for All blog, Charlene Marchese wrote that unfinished learning should be addressed by engaging the whole child in grade-level content. Her emphasis on the whole child resonates powerfully. As the 2021–2022 school year progresses through winter, uncertainty, hardship, and trauma continue or are worsening for many students. Surveys and early clinical data show increased rates of youth anxiety, depression, emergency room visits related to mental health, and suspected suicide attempts during the pandemic (Chatterjee, 2022; Office of the Surgeon General, 2021; U.S. Department of Education, 2021). So many students are struggling socially and emotionally, as well as academically.
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Three-Act Tasks. Notice and Wonder. Estimation 180. Math Talk. We learn about these leading practices for mathematics education in publications, on social media, and during professional learning events. Many educators find that these strategies are transforming today’s classrooms through increased engagement, constructive risk-taking, and rigorous problem-solving. We may be curious: From a cognitive development viewpoint, why are these techniques so effective?
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As students settle into the 2021-2022 academic year, the world is still in the midst of a pandemic and continued uncertainty. We know that students’ school experience over the last 18 months has been challenging and that there is overwhelming worry among teachers that students have entered their mathematics classrooms without exposure to and/or mastery of previous grade-level mathematical skills and concepts. While there is a great deal of variability in the learning students have brought with them and significant unpredictability about more school disruptions to the school year, one thing is certain: schools need to address students’ unfinished learning while engaging the whole child in grade-level content.
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What. A. Year. Pandemic, political upheaval, shuttered small businesses, separation from family and friends, overwhelmed hospitals, record-setting weather, and closed school buildings are just a few of the lemons we have faced. We remember those whose journey ended during these challenges, offer sympathy to those who lost loved ones and compassion to those grappling with the trauma of the past year.
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