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  • Writer's pictureTara O'Brien

New Math: Math Workshop

"New math" is built on the principles of flexible thinking, deep understanding, and communication (math is, after all, a language) through math workshop. During math, students are given a variety of tools to solve a problem and asked to explain their strategies visually and orally to classmates. The process is collaborative and hands on. Getting the correct answer remains important, but the skills used to get to that answer are highly valued as well. Young mathematicians progress through developmentally appropriate stages in their math understanding and acquire new big ideas, concepts, and skills step-by-step. Every step is important in this process as they build on one another. For example, a preschooler learns the concept of one-to-one counting and the skill used is tagging. Or, a Kindergarten student learns the concept of addition and the skill used is counting on. Both the concepts and skills are a part of math learning. Take a look at the image below to see how students develop Number Sense, Addition, and Subtraction. Click on the pdf below the image to read more about the philosophy guiding this approach to teaching mathematics.

Teaching and Learning Philosopy
Download PDF • 1.41MB

Credit: Catherine Fosnot "Landscape for Learning"

Facilitating "New Math" through Math Workshop

There are so many teaching strategies and programs available to facilitate "New Math." Naturally differentiated math contexts as part of math workshop can be created by teachers or purchased through companies like Heinemann. Click on the image to see their website. As a Kindergarten/Year 1 teacher I taught three of their units and all of the contexts from the mini-lesson book and highly recommend these resources. The units were engaging, students made progress in their math development, materials were easy to prep, lessons were simple to follow, and the units provided significant assessment data.

Math contexts follow a basic outline. The teacher presents the context, which can be a contextualized experience or a book/story to the class seated in a circle. The experience or story must be rooted in context and age appropriate so that students focus on the problem to solve and not unimportant variables. After giving the context the teacher gives students the problem to solve. Students often work in pairs and small groups to collaborate and are encouraged to use tools and record their thinking. The teacher circulates, taking observational notes, asking students to explain their process, and prompting students to move in the direction of using more complex math skills. After work time, students return to the circle and the teacher asks students to share their strategies for solving the problem. The teacher is thoughtful in picking students to share strategies that the class will benefit from hearing. Then the teacher models the strategies shared.

The process is repeated the next day, with a review of what happened the day before and the problem within the context changed so that students have the opportunity to experiment using the strategies that they heard about the day before. Over the course of the unit, students apply strategies that they have heard in Math Workshop to new problems within the same general context. This is a very basic overview of how teachers can use contextualized, naturally differentiated math contexts within the math workshop model. The model is appropriate for students of all ages and is highly effective in motivating students.

Click the image of Catherine Fosnot to the right to access the New Perspectives Website and read "notes" about several math contexts her team developed. Notes about two Kindergarten/Year 1 math contexts are posted below as pdf documents.

Bunk Beds and Apple Boxes
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Baby`s Wild Adecnture
Download PDF • 196KB

The Heinemann website explains Math Workshop Contexts for Learning Mathematics...

"Contexts for Learning Mathematics (CFLM) is a rigorous K–6 classroom resource that makes use of a math workshop environment to bring the Standards for Mathematical Practice to life. Rich, authentic contexts provide a backdrop for fostering the use of mathematical models as thinking tools, tenacious problem solving, and the reading and writing of mathematical arguments and justifications to ensure the development of a positive growth-mindset.

Check out the Heinemann Podcast on your podcast app for more insight into Math Workshop. Clicking on the image will redirect you to Sticher. In a follow-up post I will explain how teachers and teams can build context-based math problems as part of Math Workshop

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