Professional Learning Review

Lisa Cairns
Launceston Christian School, Tasmania

Our work is 100% professional learning. At the end of a Task Centre Package workshop the staff were invited to take the Evaluation sheet, ponder their response over night and hand it to their HoD the next day. The questions led Lisa to responding more reflectively and extensively in this Professional Learning Review. Her thoughts tell her story, but highlight several messages for all of us.

Our thanks to Lisa for willingly sharing this and to Robert Armstrong (HoD) for organising the day and its review.

Race Track at a Workshop
This teacher is trying to trace the track by looking in the mirror.
Where is the maths in that?

Green Line
How to teach mathematics in a classroom environment where there are students with differing abilities and developmental stages and where there are significant gaps in the understanding of concepts and rates of learning is a constant challenge in my teaching. The approach to mathematics within the curriculum and student attitudes to mathematics is also of concern. I found that the Task Centre Workshop addressed all of these issues.
Emphasis on process rather than content means a different teaching approach because students are learning to 'work like mathematicians'.
It was an interesting process reflecting on the key things valued in mathematics lessons. Particularly things such as student engagement, small group interaction, and opportunities for different learning styles as well as individual teaching time, that involved rich tasks and good questions and working mathematically rather than learning recipes. Yet my content-based approach delivers these things very infrequently and I am aware of not explicitly teaching the skills and strategies students need in a consistent manner.
Start with an interesting problem, not expecting to solve it in 10 minutes!
In mathematics lessons getting the right answer is usually the main concern for students. However, mathematics is a 'language' that we use to communicate and reflect on the world around us. Refocusing on a Working Mathematically approach, that is teaching the process of doing mathematics and fostering a learning environment where questions lead to deeper understanding, must lead to better outcomes for all students. The Task Centre Workshop reminded me that what should be being taught are not problems for the sake of problems but how to think about problems, the questions to ask and teaching the students to identify the skills and strategies needed.
Mathematics Journals
I have found recording and reflecting on mathematics problems is inherently weak in a content driven approach. Journals are a way of recording learning and fostering reflective work habits and an attitude that there is more to understand. It is a way of working that I will need to explicitly teach.
Mathematics doesn't start from the general but from the specific. It involves collecting data, sorting data, identifying patterns and then generalising and asking questions.
This is the problem solving approach that I have used with science and technology for years and that gives purpose and direction to skills lessons. I am wondering why I haven't used it in mathematics lessons! The place of 'toolbox' lessons where skills (content and concepts) can be taught that relate to problems in mathematics therefore rings true and a summer of re-planning my approach to teaching mathematics seems to be approaching.
Three lives of a task - modeling, invitation and further development; seeking a deeper understanding because 'a good task is the tip of an iceberg'.
It was valuable looking at the different ways of using the tasks that we have purchased. From a planning perspective, because the tasks are open ended, the opportunities for differentiation are huge. The tasks offer flexibility in how students approach solving the problems and ample opportunity for teacher and student questioning to extend the tasks into significant investigations and units of work as well as identifying concepts that need further teaching. The tasks also provide great opportunities for students to work with concrete materials and to record and communicate their learning in different ways.

Management and structuring of lessons from whole class teaching and modeling through to small group investigations with the tasks seemed practical and achievable and should meet the needs of differentiation in my classroom but will need to be carefully planned because playing with problems must be purposeful.

Poster Problem Clinic
A powerful way into a lesson that emphasised mathematics literacy and modeling of the four steps of read and understand the problem, choose a strategy, carry out the strategy, check the result.

I particularly valued this whole class approach to teaching mathematics literacy and the meta-cognition of problem solving. I have used it already and found it very effective. The class were all engaged and despite the wide range of abilities all students received enough scaffolding to begin the problem and I was able to provide individual support when it was needed and extension was easily achieved through questioning that also revealed some interesting misconceptions!

Introduction to Maths300, Task Centre Home Base and Calculating Changes
Having the time to explore the different sites was useful particularly the search facilities for specific lessons which I have since used to identify a Maths300 lesson which I then linked to a Poster Problem and now have enough teaching and lesson material for at least a week or two. The initial lesson was well received by the class.
In summary - a very valuable session that will significantly change the way I think about and plan for mathematics in my classroom. The challenge will be to maintain the level of planning needed in the initial stages to embed the new understanding into my daily practice.

Green Line
Follow this link to Task Centre Home page.