Communicating Mathematically

I am a learner. I am always striving to see what is new in education. As my school is going 1:1 with iPads, I am especially driven to see how technology can enhance the learning experiences of my students. I know that children are more engaged when they use technology and so it just makes sense for me to look for ways to use it more.

As I began this school year, I remembered what my former principal, Katie Coppenbarger, taught me when we began implementing iPads in our elementary school. The goal, she explained, is to find ways that you can use tech to do things that you normally couldn’t do. Instead of merely replacing an activity, (ex. doing the same thing but just on the iPad), we should be looking at things from a different angle and providing opportunities for students to do new and awesome things.

The technology should also enhance the lesson, rather than hinder it, and we should start simple. Making things too complicated from the start will cause confusion and inhibit independence. (You also won’t want to stick with it and are more likely to abandon your attempts.)

In math, the new Common Core State Standards require students to communicate how they solve problems rather than just arrive at the right answer. Our new math program gives students ample opportunities to explain their thinking in writing and tell what strategies they used. This is our first year doing the program and so I know that my first graders aren’t accustomed to doing this. Rather than handing the class their math journals and saying “Here you go. Explain how you solved that.” I am using the app “Screen Chomp” and am modeling how to communicate mathematically.

Steve Dunn, a former teacher, principal, and current literacy educational consultant, once taught me that something needs to be in a child’s oral language before it can be used in their written language. “Screen Chomp” is great because it allows you to draw and record your voice at the same time. You can play it back and listen to what was captured and it works really well for students to be able to explain their thinking. I modeled the process several times and then began to release the responsibility to students in the class. (They love to be the one who gets to record their thinking and share it with the class.) Now, after some time, students are writing their thinking in their math journals. They have a better understanding of how to explain the processes they used.

The first time I asked my students to explain what it meant to add, I was greeted with the response “14.” Rather than throw my hands up in the air in exasperation, I tried to think of how I could use technology to help my students be more successful. It is a process that I work at each day. The results are exciting!

Picture: A screen capture of a student’s work as they explain what it means to add.


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