October 23, 2014

‘Justifying your thinking’

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WCS hosts ‘Bring Your Parent to Math Class Day’

Dec. 22, 2011

By Steven Frank

Observer staff

 

Williston Central School math teacher Jared Bailey facilitates a conversation about geometric shapes with his fifth grade class on ‘Bring Your Parent to Math Class Day,’ held Dec. 15. Several parents sat in on Bailey’s class and approximately 80 attended overall. The day was designed to enlighten parents of fifth- to eighth-graders on a new style of mathematics instruction in Williston schools called ‘Best Practices in Teaching Mathematics,’ which focuses more on discussions about mathematical concepts instead of procedures. (Observer photo by Steven Frank)

To provide a solution for parents not educated on how mathematics is now taught to fifth to eighth grade students at Williston Central School, second-year district math coordinator Caitlin Bianchi developed a formula: invite mothers and fathers to attend their children’s classes so they can see the instruction first hand.

Approximately 80 parents factored into the equation on Dec. 15 when WCS hosted its first “Bring Your Parent to Math Class Day.”

“We were talking as a middle school faculty about how to better inform parents about math, and what math looks like now compared to when they were kids,” said Bianchi, who began teaching in 1993.

The new WCS curriculum, called “Best Practices in Teaching Mathematics,” promotes discussions about mathematical concepts in small and large groups, and encourages students to explain their mathematical thinking.

“In the past, there was a procedure that you did without necessarily understanding the concepts behind that. Now math is a lot more conceptually based,” Bianchi said. “The other thing is there is a lot more focus on discourse between students. It’s not just the teacher telling the kids what to do. There is more collaboration and focus on justifying your thinking.”

Technology is another factor in today’s math classrooms. Gone are the days of blackboards and chalks. Several of WCS’s math classrooms feature SMART Boards, an interactive computerized whiteboard that allows teachers to record images and easily resume from where they left off the previous day.

“Unlike just having a projector, you can move stuff around and bring in all kinds of graphics,” Bianchi said.

Julie Longchamp has been a teacher for 29 years — when students in Williston and throughout the country were taught a different style of math — but has embraced the new model. She was also pleased with how “Bring Your Parent to Math Class Day” worked out.

“We learned formulas and students now derive them, so they internalize,” she said. “(Parents) saw that today. It’s exciting.”

Karen Cutler enjoyed the opportunity to attend her son’s class and described the difference in math instruction from the time she was a student as “night and day.”

“It was great,” said Cutler, whose son’s class was working on the angle sum of a polygon using two different approaches. “The students were having fun. They were learning and they taught me so much.”

Jason Hibbeler, whose son, Peter, is in eighth grade, believes the day could help parents help their children.

“I think it can only benefit the parent and the student. When you’re not in the classroom, you don’t get the full picture,” he said.

One parent who wished to remain anonymous, however, walked away with a negative experience.

“I call it worst practices,” she said, “because there is no real instruction. It’s all questions with the same kids participating… They keep changing the math program and it’s not fair. They are using the kids as guinea pigs.”

Bianchi, who said the feedback she received was positive, added that there would likely be another “Bring Your Parent to Math Class Day” later this winter or early spring — this time for parents of children between kindergarten and fourth grade.

She called it a “pilot” program and wasn’t sure if there would be similar events for other school subjects.

“From what I hear, I think parents would like (to attend other classes),” Bianchi said. This is new to us this year and I think math is something parents seem to be concerned about as much or more than other subject areas because it is taught so differently now.”

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