“Multiply our kindness and divide away our distractions.” The Franciscan School middle school math teacher Patsy Thieken prays this prayer each day as she immerses her students in the world of math. Math has long been a strong program at TFS, but in recent years, the teachers have focused on how math applies to the world we live in. TFS’s new principal (and former K-5 assistant principal) Dawn Smith says “I encourage all teachers to make the math meaningful and identify and incorporate new and practical life lessons to provide students with a learning environment that is inviting, positive, and most of all, challenging.”
In the elementary years, students at TFS are provided with foundational mathematical skills and concepts that encourage them to be lifelong learners. This foundation leads students to be prepared for real-life problem solving situations, as well as with the skills necessary to move forward into higher conceptual understanding. Fourth grade teacher Julie Hetu shares that in her classroom, she focuses many of her lessons and units around high cognitive tasks, and she incorporates activities such as escape rooms, pixel art mysteries, and multiplication tic tac toe. All of these activities and games are a fun and interactive way to problem solve and build math fluency in the classroom. Hetu shared that she likes to “tap into the students’ creative sides, embrace student interests, and incorporate innovative ideas into the individualized curriculum.”
As students enter middle school, the focus shifts slightly to ensure an understanding of math by developing reasoning and mathematical communication skills. This is done by teaching students to make sense of problems and to persevere in solving them. The importance of defending answers using math language and learning from mistakes is also stressed. STREAM is incorporated through technology projects, art designs, and engineering projects. “Science often overlaps with math through use of scientific formulas, graphing, and calculation,” shares Thieken. “At every opportunity, we incorporate activities that require design, execution, redesign, and presentation to further encourage the use of problem solving skills.
Smith emphasizes that as a whole, it is important for the school to help students to continue developing a growth mindset and appreciation for the learning that comes from making and analyzing mistakes. “By doing the math and finding the value in it,” says Smith, “students can develop greater persistence and skill in handling mathematical challenges.” By promoting reasoning and problem solving, math becomes more applicable and even more enjoyable for the students.
Throughout TFS, teachers continue to incorporate math ideals into everyday learning and growing. Hetu shares this saying that is displayed in her classroom for students to see each day: “Mathematics may not teach us how to add love or minus hate, but it gives us every reason to hope that every problem has a solution.”