Middle School Math is All About Problem Solving

As we prepare our students for future success, we recognize that numeracy is an essential life skill. It’s no longer acceptable for students to graduate from high school thinking, “I’m not good at math,” because we also know that that’s just not true; everyone can be good at math.

“Math is always a hot button subject. Parents think back to their own experiences of math – some positive, some negative – and now see their children going through school and they don’t want them to have a negative experience,” says Mrs. Julie Harris, a math teacher and program specialist at the Middle School. “Parents also refer back to how they were taught and see that it’s different now. This brings up questions like, ‘Why is it different? Is it still rigorous? Is my child really learning?'”

Math at St. Michaels University School is about engaging all styles of learning and helping students develop the skills to persevere through problem solving.

“We want students experiencing success and feeling some joy in math so that they have a positive mindset moving forward. What’s key to that mindset is that they need to experience a bit of struggle in math because these short-term struggles bring long-term success. We want all students to feel the joy of solving a problem that is attainable but not routine,” Julie says. “This prepares them so that when they face other problems down the road they can draw on that positive experience in math saying, ‘This is hard, this is a struggle, but I can do this because I know how to come at this problem in a few different ways.'”

Julie calls this “normalizing the struggle” in math and she equates it to an Albert Einstein quote: “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

“In math we used to be considered smart if we could solve problems quickly and easily. However, we don’t praise kids for doing things easily; we praise effort, struggle and perseverance because we learn by being challenged,” she says. “We’re developing skills and a mindset that shows students that they can be successful if they’re willing to work hard and persevere.”

Hands-On Learning in Math Class

No two Middle School math classes are alike. Classes are dynamic and 50-minute blocks are a balanced mix of instruction, and both independent and collaborative work.

Take a recent Grade 6 class as an example. Mr. DeMerchant created a hands-on math experience that involved solving combination locks. Students learning about the order of operations (BEDMAS) worked to answer math problems that helped them determine the correct lock combinations.

“When students are working on math in an engaging context they will be willing to struggle longer and persevere in order to get to that tangible end goal,” Julie says.

The newly renovated math classrooms at the Middle School – complete with movable furniture and whiteboard walls – were appropriately designed for this active way to learn math. Communicating thinking and making learning visible is essential in math. It allows teachers to assess how well a student understands the math, but it also allows students to work together to share different strategies with one another.

Math Information Evening

On Tuesday, May 7, the Middle School will host a Math Information Evening for parents from 6 to 8 pm in the Chapel.

Parents will hear about why and how the provincial math curriculum has changed and how the subject is taught at SMUS, with some interactive and collaborative math problem-solving for parents. Parents will also learn how to support their children at home when they’re working on math problems.

“What we give time to is what we value. We can’t say, ‘You should read every night’ but not give students time in class to read,” Julie says. “In order for students to be successful in math, we show them that we, as a school, value it and that it’s important, and that you learn and grow when you work hard and persevere.”


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