Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Transforming Math - Sunday Keynote at Confratute

Our first keynote at Confratute was about math instruction. Rachel McAnallen is a national treasure who completed her PhD at the age of 75 at the University of Connecticut. How inspiring! If you get her to visit your professional development or school, consider yourself lucky. I attend Rachel's keynotes every year. The first time I heard her speak it transformed the way I think about and teach math - and I've always loved the subject. Rachel does research on math anxiety in teachers, and the impact on instruction. Take a moment to check out her website - Zoid and Company. The blurb below is the summary of her keynote that I wrote for the Confratute newsletter. 

Rachel McAnallen, known as Ms. Math to students and teachers around the world, helped kick off Confratute in style. According to Sally Reis, who introduced her, Rachel’s keynote addresses have marked a “turning point in the way we think about mathematics” to attendees for years. Rachel began her address by pointing out that math is “elegant in its simplicity”, but that her focus for her talk would be change. Almost all of us keep up with changes in technology. None of us still uses a rotary dial phone or a bag cell phone, do we? Yet we complain about the changing way we teach math by saying, “That’s not how I did it when I was in school.” It is time to alter that philosophy and embrace a way of teaching math that helps students build a deeper understanding of the very foundations of mathematics – place value, number sense, and creative problem solving.

As Rachel pointed out using examples across all the operations, we must teach students that they are in charge of the numbers. We learned about renaming numbers in many ways to allow us to solve problems using number sense, modeling subtraction after shopping, and using the situation of a problem to help us decide how to define a remainder.  As long as we follow the rule “respect the decimal”, we are free to play with numbers and discover the beautiful patterns within. This creative problem solving helps us uncover more than one way to solve a problem and reinforces our innate sense of the value of numbers.

“Arithmetic”, Rachel declared, “is answering the question. Mathematics is questioning the answer.” Show the beauty of the interconnectedness of mathematics to help develop number sense and global comprehension. Take the pledge with us now, “I will ALWAYS respect the decimal!” Let’s take what we’ve learned back to our classrooms and create a generation of mathematicians, not calculators. 

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