WMI = Great Learning & Teaching
We first realised that something special was happening at Boroondara Park Primary School through a parent. Amanda wrote:
Am I able to order one set of Poly Plugs. My child is using them at school and wants a set at home. My son is in Grade 2. He ... loves the Poly Plugs - don't think he realises he is learning!!
Around the same time staff requested an after school PD session to 'see if they were on the right track'. They were - and are - as these notes taken at the meeting confirm. Excitement about learning and teaching mathematics was evident throughout.

Have you seen Working Mathematically with Infants?

 

Working Mathematically with Infants Review

Level 1 & 2 Teachers
28th March 2011

The school teaches infants (Years K, 1 & 2) in multi-age levels based around Levels 1 and 2 of the Victorian government curriculum document. It is a large school with 11-12 teachers involved in mathematics teaching at these levels. Teachers began work with the WMI resources from Day 1. As a consequence, 5 - 7 year old children were using Poly Plug and calculators within the first week.

This decision to significantly change teaching focus, style and practice was agreed by the ten staff at the end of the previous year. The professional learning review was arranged to address the one major concern that lingered in teachers minds - how to adapt the grade specific planners in the resource to the multi-age class structure.

Teachers responses to a different question, led to confidence that they could deal with that issue.

Question

What benefits/values have you seen for your children in the five or six weeks you have been using Working Mathematically with Infants as your core resource?
Responses
  • Active involvement in mathematics due to tackling it in with different materials, talking mathematics rather than writing it and opportunities for child to child (peer) teaching.
  • Enjoying mathematics - me and them. Everyone is having a go.
  • Willingness to estimate number, children visualising number and success for all.
  • Outside of mathematics time, the free time use of the Poly Plug to show each other their learning.
  • Total engagement in learning, partly because of the story contexts such as Taking The Train, and the opportunity to use acting out as a teaching craft technique.
  • It encourages both independent learners and collaboration. And it doesn't seem to matter how you group the children - sometimes in ability groups, sometimes mixed groups, sometimes child-formed groups and sometimes children working independently.
  • I take the older more able children and the activities really extend my top students. After one investigation one boy commented: That's the hardest my brain has ever had to work in maths!
  • Makes my teaching so much easier.
  • I used to think I had to find something new in maths each day just to keep them interested. Now I don't. I offer the same activity again with a new challenge and they want to do it.
  • The happy engagement gives me time to stand back, circulate, talk with and evaluate. It's important to mention too that we often focus on the learning requirements of the brighter and not so bright students, and WMI does address these, but the middle range students are equally satisfied and learning too.
  • The emphasis on mathematical literacy - talking about, reflecting on and writing (recording) mathematics.
  • The wonderful enthusiasm for mathematics. The planned revisiting of activities and the peer teaching that just becomes part of the classroom, means that those who didn't get it the first time soon do and learning for everyone is stronger.

From the beginning children kept journals, just as a mathematician would. The date on this one from Alison Warton's Level 1 class is 25th February - barely three weeks from the opening of school!
Digital cameras were another handy tool. They provided stimulus pictures for the journals and plenty of material for a mathematics display wall.
More from Alison's class.

     

Team sharing of responses above and further discussion led to the realisation that the multi-age concern could be tackled as a mathematician would, by breaking the problem into smaller parts. Teaching in this adventurous way is different because it requires research into the manual and CD and 'flowing' with the children, but it is clearly worth it in terms of children's learning. Naturally there is more research to be done during the first year of the program but the Planners break the scope up into small weekly research experiences for teachers. The team realised:
  • In future years the research done now will make preparation very much easier.
  • Researching the 'next' activity will be assigned to each staff member or pair on rotation as a professional learning exercise to be shared at the weekly team meetings.
  • The in built differentiation of activities and their richness means that using an activity from a different Year Level Planner to service the learning needs of particular children was no more difficult than establishing another work station.
Question
Clearly there is a huge enthusiasm among children for learning with the Poly Plug.
Do you think the shine will wear off?
No. Whenever I introduce a new threaded activity the response is Wow, something new we can do with them. And they love returning to old favourite activities.

Emma Chiera, Curriculum Coordinator
Having organised the PD, Emma was unable to attend because she was running a session for teachers of Year 3 & 4 to introduce them to Maths With Attitude, the resource that continues learning to work like a mathematician through to Year 10. A week later she wrote:

I have written some reflections from my own experiences using WMI this year. Ali mentioned you were keen for any additions. I am also keen to be involved in a small group that presents at the MAV conference ... we have lots more stories to share.
My initial thought when I began thinking about my experiences of using Working Mathematically with Infants was how simple it was to differentiate each task as they are all open ended and give children so many entry points.

Tasks such as Buttons, Number of the Day and Cross Off have been differentiated to cater for children achieving between 0.5 up to 2.5 in a multi-age classroom of grades 1 and 2. Here are some examples of how Buttons has been differentiated.

     

Buttons has become a class favourite. The children ask for the 'dancing maths' activity and they can recognise patterns, factors and make connections in ways that I never dreamed. Their ability to check for accuracy by making models or using their calculator has developed so much in such a short period of time.

'Cross Off' has been another favourite and again I have been blown away by what they have shown me. They are demonstrating their understanding of each of the operations in a highly sophisticated way. They are learning from each other and prompting each other to 'check it in another way.' Again this task is so simple to differentiate, simply by changing the values on the number line.

Rory's Pattern Game has been a winner as well. The children loved the physical element (as they have with Buttons) and again I was surprised by their ability to visualise and share their thinking. The recording of number stories to match their patterns has again shown me what they know and it has enabled me to question and extend their thinking in a meaningful way.

I completed Number of the Day just recently and I watched one child include three operations in his number story, check with his calculator and then make the necessary changes. When I asked him to explain his thinking he said:

I know that when you divide by 2 that is just halving, and when you divide by four that is just halving again. If I add 10 and then take away 11 it is just one less than what I started with so it works.
I have really enjoyed watching the children approach these tasks as I can clearly see there are so many different ways children can approach a task and solve a problem - so different to what I would have anticipated.

And Amanda ... well she has passed on the information to other parents and there are now several families with Poly Plug at home.

Calculating Changes ... is a division of ... Mathematics Centre