Each year at Inly School, the faculty takes a close look at one area of the curriculum. Last year, for example, we spent the year focusing on Inly’s math curriculum. During level meetings throughout the year, teachers met with colleagues from their level to share materials, to review and discuss applied best practices, and to ensure consistency throughout the level. At faculty meetings, teachers met across levels to discuss the curriculum continuum, to review and revise level standards and exit competencies, and to ensure that we all share a common pedagogy and vocabulary with regard to the teaching of math at Inly.
Derek Stolp, Inly’s Middle School math teacher, helped to guide this process bringing to the task his 30 plus years of practical experience, extensive research, and authorship on the subject. The goals that Derek defined as we considered our approach to math were that Inly students:
- Find that learning is an enjoyable experience, even learning mathematics; (Suffering is said to be good for the soul but it doesn’t do much to promote intellectual curiosity.),
- Have confidence in their ability to persevere in the face of challenges;
- Discover that mathematics is much more than a set of procedures to be memorized, that it provides a language and a set of tools that help us to understand the world;
- Be fluent in the kinds of skills necessary to enjoy success in secondary school.
Specifically, faculty members consider the following as we look at mathematics learning and teaching at Inly:
- As we assign children to groups, we accommodate the different levels even within these small groups making sure to employ a differentiated approach that stimulates all the children while not overwhelming those who are less confident, skillful, or insightful.
- We make it a goal to integrate math concepts and skills with other disciplines, such as science.
- We are observant and responsive when a child is ready to move beyond a material or skill.
- We make sure that, once a concept or skill is developed, the student continues to use it/ apply it, and we help them develop sufficient fluency through practice. Along those lines, we are continually reevaluating what kinds of homework assignments are appropriate.
- And finally, we continue to evaluate the proper balance between computational skills and thinking/analytical skills.
The conversation continues, but our “take aways” have been many. As a faculty, we have a renewed respect for the genius of the Montessori math program and materials. We have shared lessons and purchased new materials. We have identified and adopted a school-wide Montessori scope and sequence created by the Montessori Foundation. We are piloting a new computerized record keeping system “Montessori Compass” that allows teachers to record the lessons a student has received and track individual student progress along that curriculum sequence. This will allow us to assess grade level placement in math and communicate that clearly to parents. We have created classroom materials that target the development of applied math and problem-solving skills, and we have committed to increased use of word problems and games in our teaching of math.
To read more about one area of our extensive discussion concerning the relationship between knowing math facts and the mathematical mind, we invite you to read Derek’s thoughts on the subject in the following passage from his book, Mathematics Miseducation: The Case Against A Tired Tradition.
This year, the curricular area that is under critical review is our literacy/literature curriculum. This work began over the summer with dedicated faculty members conducting a literature search on the common core standards (adopted in Massachusetts in 2011), and the currently accepted best practices approach to teaching pre-literacy and literature appreciation and analysis skills. You will hear more about this work in future “curriculum corner” updates.