We’re always looking to make teaching math even better

Mar 08 2024

We’re always looking to make teaching math even better

What is mathematics? It is only a systematic effort of solving puzzles posed by nature.
-Shakuntala Devi

Dr. Wittwer shares insights from a math education conference.

For some adults looking back on their education, learning math does not provide particularly positive memories unless you were one of the top students in the class. I can easily remember the feelings of apprehension as we were called to the blackboard to compete with classmates over who could finish the problem first. It felt like all the eyes in the class were on your back if you took longer than the other students to complete the problem. And if you answered it incorrectly, you would blush with shame and embarrassment as the teacher corrected you in front of everyone.

Ms. Lavelle discusses how to improve math education.

So watching two Keystone Lower School teachers share how they teach math made me wish I had them as a student many years ago. In a presentation that was informative, engaging, and inspiring, Ms. Lavelle and Dr. Wittwer presented on “Creative Math” as part of our recent Professional Development In-Service Day a couple of weeks ago. At Keystone, we have a policy of asking faculty and staff who attend professional development conferences to share what they have learned with colleagues. This way, we all improve when a teacher pursues professional growth.

Ms. Lavelle and Dr. Wittwer described attending a “Creative Mathematics” conference led by math educator and guru Kim Sutton. The Keystone educators discussed some of the games and activities they utilize in their teaching and the ways that this makes math fun. As a result, students arrive to class actually excited about math and eager to dive in. They play games and sing along to songs. Ms. Lavelle and Dr. Wittwer explained that students compete against themselves and try to best their previous score or results.

While teaching like this may be based on the latest research, some of it stems from common sense. As Dr. Wittwer pointed out, “I don’t know about you, but I generally want to do more of what is fun, and less of what isn’t. In addition, when I am feeling anxious, I retain less of the information that is directed towards me. Our students are similar. Research shows that having fun while learning, particularly in math, allows for more effective learning, increases retention, and motivates them to want to continue to practice. Games with dice, board games, dominos, cards, and other manipulatives immediately are more fun for students. They suddenly are also more active in their learning process which allows teachers to be more facilitators rather than lecturers. Fun through jokes and games and music can take an anxious or worried student and give them the space and encouragement they need to try without fear of failure. Levity allows for compassion for their own self and each other. Something we all need more of in life – and also math.”

We can feel fortunate that Keystone has dedicated educators like Dr. Wittwer teaching third grade and Ms. Lavelle teaching kindergarten.

“Nothing is more exciting than seeing your students skip into the room holding their math books! Too often students feel like they are not good at math, but most of the time, that stems from how the students are being taught,” said Ms. Lavelle. “Taking students from concrete to abstract learners can be achieved by introducing fun and engaging activities like playing games and using hands on manipulatives. The possibilities are endless in making math more fun!”

Thank goodness, we have come a long way since my time in school. Ms. Lavelle, Dr. Wittwer, and our other math teachers at Keystone are committed to making this challenging subject an upbeat, fun, and positive experience. They want students to arrive to class excited about that day’s math activities and to see doing problems as a fun mental game. They know that children learn best when they are challenged, supported, and they enjoy what they are doing even when it’s hard. Our children are in good hands with teachers like these.

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  • Michele Giddens

    Yes, Keystone School has some incredible math teachers! As a parent of an 8th grade lifer, I have seen many students progress through the Lower School and into Middle School. Mr. Mustafa in 5th and 6th and Dr. LeBlanc in 7th and 8th continue to develop Keystone students’ love of learning. Mr. Mustafa leads the Middle School Math Club (open to all 5th – 8th graders) with weekly opportunities to practice competition math problems. This past February, he took the Keystone Math Club team to St. Mary’s University where they competed in the regional MathCounts competition. Through Mr. Mustafa’s approach to building a broad foundation of math concepts in the classroom, Keystone students are ready to hone their understanding of Algebra and Geometry in Dr. LeBlanc’s classes. For the 7th and 8th graders, Dr. LeBlanc infuses his classes with real world scenarios and challenging, higher level problems that provide scaffolding to Keystone’s already advance curriculum. I have no doubt that Keystone Lower and Middle School students will have the necessary foundation to continue to move forward with more complex math concepts in Upper School and beyond.

    March 14, 2024 at 10:28 am

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