Teaching Mathematics in the primary is less about teaching content and more about the learning process. This shift in the teaching approach demands that the teacher does not only present a written calculation (such as “5 + 8 = ?”), but also present such a calculation in words by putting it within a context or situation that pupils can relate to (e.g. “A girl has 5 stickers and her friend gives her 8 more. How many has she got in all?”). Our pupils can discuss the situation and think of possible ways how to arrive to a solution. Some pupils might refer to a number line, and solve such a question by adding on in steps of one starting from the larger number. Others might want to represent the objects in question, i.e. the stickers and draw them in order to visualize and solve the problem. Others might require concrete handling of objects and use blocks or other manipulatives to role play the situation. Others still might prefer to hear themselves counting on by using their fingers. All these possibilities will surely appeal to different pupils with different learning styles and abilities. In our diverse and mixed-ability classes, such an opportunity for pupils to explore various routes to solve a given problem will provide the teacher a means to carry out differentiated learning. Pupils are actively engaged in the learning as they brainstorm possible paths to a solution and eventually decide
which method is the most effective.
Throughout this whole process, the role of the teacher is that of probing and valuing the pupils’ mathematical thinking. Pupils need to be able to identify a valid strategy which they should take up in order to solve a given mathematical puzzle. Communication among pupils is therefore crucial, and using group setting allows pupils to better evaluate their mathematical reasoning through writing or drawings (i.e. using visual representations).
Problem-solving tasks or investigations enable the pupils to communicate, share their mathematical thinking, identify connections between numbers, draw diagrams and check whether their reasoning is valid. It is also very true that children learn a lot from each other, so such practice will surely capitalize on this concept.
The primary teacher should continuously sustain and support problem-solving activities. Such activities can take place beyond the classroom such as during maths trails in selected public places, e.g. gardens, old city centers, airports, supermarkets, museums, etc. Teachers need to praise and encourage a positive attitude from pupils towards taking up a challenge to solve a given question. It is important to probe the students by asking “why is that?” so that pupils may justify their answers through talk, writing or drawings. The pupils’ working is very important as it shows the processes and the mathematical thinking used and it can also support as well as justify an answer. Communication, student-to-student interaction and group discussions allow pupils of various abilities to support each other’s learning through peer tutoring. Varied approaches towards a solution should be welcomed as long as they are viable.
In the long run, pupils will learn that Mathematics is fundamentally about logical thinking and the ability to validate their thinking through known mathematical facts. Teacher questioning should be high quality and requiring higher order thinking by children, but it is also essential to provide sufficient wait time for pupils to reflect and discuss throughout the whole process. In sum, the teacher needs to be more of a listener or facilitator, rather than a speaker.
Investigations are an opportunity for pupils to understand mathematical concepts in contexts which are relevant to them and help them to connect their mathematical learning to real life situations. This approach to Mathematics also implies that learning takes place when the learner is given the agency and ownership of the learning process, and is able to engage in inquiry-based learning. Learners are able to construct their understanding and their knowledge through their direct hands-on experience of a skill or concept and also through collaborative work. Further to this, the learners are also improving their communication skills and critical thinking skills. Engaging maths activities provide more than mere immediate motivation for students to take up a challenge but also helps to build and sustain a stronger and a more positive relationship and disposition towards pursuing mathematics studies in the future.
Article written by: Elaine Muscat, Scientix Deputy Ambassador