‘Fishbowls and learning pits’: Students revel in challenge of Mathematics

A new approach to teaching Mathematics is adding to the resilience and knowledge of students at St Christopher’s Catholic Primary School Holsworthy.

The school introduced the Mathematical Expertise & Excellence (ME&E) program in 2018. The program’s research-based approach gives teachers extensive professional development so they can guide students to adopt the communication, problem solving and reasoning skills that are at the heart of being numerate.

Students talk about being in the ‘learning pit’ where the task may seem difficult, and then use different techniques to find their way out – an approach that gets them comfortable with the unknown and gives them strategies to learn and retain mathematical concepts.

They are directing their own learning and have to think for themselves, so they’re really building resilience.

– Tamara Enright

“The defining feature is the challenge for the kids to take responsibility for their learning,” said Principal Tony Boyd. “ME&E puts the struggle back into learning so they take ownership, and when they’ve learnt something, they’ve truly learnt it.

“A sign of success is the mindset they bring to it. The students are able to articulate that they’re in the learning pit and struggling with how to solve a problem, but they’ve got strategies for climbing out.”

Year 4 teacher Tamara Enright said students were enthusiastic about the challenges they received in maths lessons, known as launch tasks.

Among the strategies students use to solve each task are ‘spy walks’, where they can ask others in the classroom or observe their peers working out a problem on a white board known as the ‘showcase’ space.

If the teacher wants to draw attention to a student who is working well, or feels others need support in reaching an answer they can use the ‘fish bowl’ technique. For this, the whole class will listen as the teacher questions a student about how they got to a certain point in their work and continue to solve the next stage together.

I like it because it’s a challenge and we have to work through it ourselves.

– Sushil Koratala

Students get a five-minute introduction to the lesson and an hour to work.
“They have more time to explore and engage, so there is a lot more opportunity for the teacher to support all the different levels of learning,” Ms Enright said.

“The idea is that they are directing their own learning and have to think for themselves, so they’re really building their resilience. It also frees the teacher up a lot to focus on what each student needs.

“At the end of each lesson know where students are at without marking their work. We’re also finding they understand the content more, because they don’t get it spoon fed to them and then have to try and memorise it.”
Year 4 students Sushil Koratala and Isabella Bertram used different strategies to work out which times on a clock face make particular angles, and to prove that times with acute angles can only be ‘between o’clock and quarter past’.

“I like it because it’s a challenge and we have to work through it ourselves,” Sushil said. “Some other launch tasks we’ve done were on fractions and decimals, angles, addition, subtraction and algorithms. The fish bowls are really helpful because you get to see how to improve your work.”

Isabella said the ME&E lessons were different to others because it was possible to work together to solve problems, including ones about shapes, decimals, and graphs.

“Rather than just working with our own brain, we get to talk to each other and see each other’s work to help us get the answers to things,” she said. “We get to see how other people learn and to help each other.”

2020-07-30T01:39:22+00:00
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