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Maya Newell 42521336

Reflective Essay

EDUC3706

Personal Observation of Mathematics Teaching in Action


I had finally adjusted to the routine of an all-girls private school as Miss Dean*
had worked there for 15 years, paving the way of obedience and diligence for
these bright girls. The bell rang as students waited eagerly outside of their
classroom, ready to begin the next session. Miss Dean waited outside until all
students were ready to enter, asking them to take their maths grid book, their
Imaths textbook, take a worksheet from her table and have their pencils and
erasers ready for the next lesson.
As the students entered, the classroom was separated into a carpet area (where
the books were laid out), the different tables grouped according to different
academic capabilities (labelled patterns, colours and shapes), and at the front
was the interactive whiteboard alongside the whiteboard. The white board
labelled the date and the objective of the day with the word Kilogram quest on it.
The teacher, Miss Dean approached the front of the room and voices began to
drop.
Class, Today we will begin a quest. At the starting destination, we have drawn
up our plan and we are almost ready to begin our journey. However, like most
adventurers, we need our backpack. In this quest, we will need our backpack of
knowledge
This anticipatory set allowed Miss Dean to refer to the Objective of the lesson: To
get to know Grams (g) and Kilograms (kg) and using group patterns (adding and
multiplying) to get to 12. Through guided discussion, she took students back to
their textbook, reviewing the concepts of grouping rules for addition and
multiplication, and how order of operations allow for accuracy of calculations.
She drew up counters on the board and asked students how they would write the
number sentence for the grouped counters.
She then began reviewing grams and kilograms as units of mass referring to
dictionary definitions she found within the classroom and used real life relevance
that people use kilograms and grams for (e.g. when she sent items in the post
and when she had her baby) motivating students to learn this skill (Anghileri,
2006).
After her revision, she brought the backpack back to the front. Inside the
backpack were manipulatives for the students to use. She handed me 10 gram
weights to place on the patterns table, she gave the kilogram weights to the
teacher aid to place on the colours table and she placed the coloured counters
on the shapes table. Students began to murmur as excitement of beginning their
journey commenced.
Miss Dean:
Your next destination on the quest is to use these items to help you complete
the investigation sheet. You will need to record your journey along the way. Each
table has different items to help you, do not hesitate to write down what you are
mathematically thinking. You will rotate tables every 15 minutes so everyone will
be able to complete the sheet.
On the pattern and colours table, you will have weights. You will need to hold
these weights and find items (things) in the classroom that has the same weight.
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Maya Newell 42521336

Reflective Essay

EDUC3706

There is a list written down in the table, write it down. For the patterns table, you
have counters, you can use these counters to write the many different ways you
can group using addition and multiplication to the number 12. Draw your
groupings and write a number sentence to match.
With explicit instruction, the students understood exactly what the manipulatives
were for and went quickly to work (Anghileri, 2006). Each table was accompanied
by a teacher, pre-service teacher (me) and a teacher aid. I sat next on the
colours table with the kilogram weights. Students began walking around the
classroom picking items up that felt heavy and bringing back to the table to
compare it to the 1kg. One girl, Sachini* began piling up all the textbooks,
holding them in one hand and 1kg in the other.
She appeared to be on the right track, but missed a vital piece of information,
one weight to one item. Although Sachini is one of the hardest working students
in the classroom, she often struggles with instructions as she is an ESL student. I
brought the investigation sheet and read out the instructions: Find items in the
room that weight the same as 1kg and write them in the list below. Through
modelling the appropriate actions, I began walking around the classroom with
her and picked up my computer, showing the weight similar to 1kg. She recorded
it in her table and then began finding other items that weighed the same as one
kilogram.
From the corner of my ear, I heard a student Maggie* an exceptional quirky

(2 X 3)
+
(1 X 3)
+
(1
+ 2)
= 12
bright student in the classroom begin to explain her findings with counters. I
walked over to Maggie and saw her notations.

I saw evidence that she was using multiple number patterns with addition and
multiplication and was impressed and pleased to see her explaining it to her peer
Charli.
I then glanced at Charlis counter drawings and number sentence.

Maya Newell 42521336

Reflective Essay

EDUC3706

(4 + 6)
+
(6)
=12
Miss Dean decided for term three that the students be placed so that one
accelerated student sits next to a slower learner and another accelerated
student. In this case, Maggie sat next to Charli and recognised her number
pattern could be improved. Maggie looked at Charlis counter and showed her to
group them according to multiplication as well. She moved the counters around
to show (4+6) could also be grouped as (5X2). Charli recognising this, also
decided to write 6 as (1X6) developing her sense of number patterns and
multiplication.
As the lesson wore on, students rotated to different groups and conversations of
different mathematical brains began toiling. On the last rotation and before we
knew it, the bell had rung and students were expected at music class.
The kilogram quest still had not finished, but the students were well into their
journey, using the manipulatives and social interactions to guide their
mathematical path of guided discovery.
Analysis of Mathematics Teaching
Mathematics has a place in every school, curriculum and student in the world as
it develops the numeracy capabilities all students need in personal and
professional life. Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority aim to ensure
students are confident, creative users that are able to investigate and represent
situations that occur in real life. (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and
Reporting Authority, 2014)
With this in mind, Miss Dean used Kilogram quest as an investigative approach
to allow students to construct their own knowledge. Like the kilogram quest,
mathematical investigations are effective instructional tools to balance the level
of mathematical challenge as well as allowing all students to realise their
potential with varied levels of response. Investigations require students to
consider a particular object or situation, identify their properties and show
evidence of this to further construct their knowledge in mathematics. (Leiken,
2014)
In investigations, there needs to be a range of teaching approaches with an
environment that encourages constructivism. Constructivism which provides
flexible and dynamic scaffolding for students to become motivated autonomous
learners responsible and active within a social group. (Mooney, 2009) (Owen,
1993).
Cobb expands the idea of constructivism by explaining that as students observe
these relationships, identify patterns, make abstractions and generalizations,
students come to integrate this new knowledge into existing mathematical
schemas (2000). This construction occurs through engaging in the physical and
social aspects of mathematics, as the students are able to construct a deeper
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Maya Newell 42521336

Reflective Essay

EDUC3706

understanding of the mathematical processes as they negotiate, explain and


justify (Cobb, 2000).
Through constructivism, this essay will look at how the teacher used physical and
social interactions with mathematics to allow students to build a greater
relationship with their mathematical understanding (Owen, 1993).
Manipulatives and Minds
Within Mathematics, many students encounter difficulty as they are forced into a
passive position having no control over the direction of the message (Bruner,
2007). Children cannot comprehend abstract math simply through lectures but
need concrete experience with models (e.g. counters and weights) to grasps the
mathematical concepts (Golafshani, 2013)
Piaget believed that children construct their own knowledge through giving
meaning to the objects, people and places in the world (Mooney, 2013). He
recognised the validity of kinaesthetic play allowing students to individually
construct knowledge through assimilation rather than just provided a bland
explanation by adults (Bruner, 2007) (Mooney, 2013). Effective mathematical
strategies allow students to build on their own mathematical knowledge and
acquire new conceptual understanding through kinaesthetic means.
Throughout the lesson, students worked with multiple means of manipulatives to
construct their understanding of kilograms, grams and number sentences. They
were able to discover what objects weighed one kilogram individually, and
converting that knowledge into pre-existing categories (assimilation) to gain a
broader understanding of mass (Bruner, 2007).
Golafshani suggests that the use of manipulatives in solving mathematical
problems result positively on students as they are able to bring mathematical
concepts to life and make invisible math concepts visible (2013). Students like
Sachini who may have been struggling with the abstract idea were provided
visual representation positively enhancing her mathematical knowledge.

Scaffolding through social constructivism


Piaget however, paid little attention to the socio-cultural processes in intellectual
development (Cobb, 2000) Constructivism also recognises that learning is
contextual and people do not learn through isolated theories, facts and
manipulated pieces of information, but also learn in relation to how they interact
with their environment (Zain, Rasidi & Fauziah, 2012). Social constructivism is
derived from Vygotskys idea of language fabricating knowledge placing special
importance on how interaction with students teachers or peers to advance their
knowledge (Mooney, 2013) (Dewey, 1986).Teacher or more capable peers
scaffold concepts through helping the student learn knowledge and skills that
would allow them to perform tasks on their own (multiage mathematics).
Inside the classroom, scaffolding was constantly taking place to allow students to
reach their Zone of Proximal Development.
The teachers use of active teaching in her lesson allowed students to gain a
clear idea of the learning intentions and goals, focusing their learning throughout
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Maya Newell 42521336

Reflective Essay

EDUC3706

the lesson. Through active teaching she was able to explain, demonstrate
strategies (like how to group the counters into a number sense), allow students
to ask and answer questions and encourage students to think aloud when solving
problems (Leiken, 2014). According to Sullivans research, active teaching results
in higher rates of understanding and success for students as they are able to
gain a clear idea of where they are going, how they are going and what they are
going to do next (2011). The students were able to receive new information and
through guided discussion were scaffolded to recognise the focus of the lesson
and begin applying their mathematical knowledge.
Vygotsky also placed emphasis on the importance of observation for teachers.
Through watching and listening, teachers will understand each childs
development (Cobb, 2000). As the teachers observed the children, they were
able to assess what is within their zone of proximal development and help
students develop mathematically (Mooney, 2013). Having a teacher or adult at
each table, implied teachers observing each student, allowing intervention for
students to review their knowledge and verbalise their thinking. The pre-service
teacher in the classroom noticed Sachini not correctly following instructions,
allowing her to verbalise her thinking and noticing an error which resulted in
improved understanding of kilograms (Mooney, 2009).
Not just with adults but through peer collaboration, there was a co-construction
of understanding. Vygotskys theory agrees that children can help each other
learn, as they learn not only by doing but also through discourse and
persistence. As the teacher placed students at each table for optimal scaffolding,
improvement in the students concept of various grouping counters was made.
Through discourse, Maggie used terminology understandable to Charli, allowing
Charli to remain a positive attitude towards mathematics whilst challenging her
mathematically. (Tella, 2013)
Open-ended approach to constructivism
Throughout this lesson, evidence of constructivism with student engagement in
the physical and social aspects of mathematics allowed for students to explain
their knowledge. The teachers use of manipulatives and scaffolding created a
learning environment for students to create new mathematical understandings
(Jorgensen & Dole, 2011). However within this lesson plan, it was assumed that
the teaching of the concepts was through the development of ideas proposed by
the teacher. Conversely, constructivism recognises that there will be a
multiplicity of understandings constructed by the range of students in the
classroom (Cobb, 2000).
Traditionally, the view of schools (especially private schools like this one) prepare
the youth through acquisition of organised bodies that are able to learn skills to
comprehend materials of instruct (Visnovska, 2014). Miss Dean expected
students to adhere to proper conduct and obedience and what knowledge is
being taught is the finished product. An evident example in this lesson being the
objective written on the board created by the teacher as the end product of the
lesson (Dewey, 1986).
As this school was a private all-girls school, all the students came from similar
cultural capitals as their parents were all successful in playing the game of
school (Boaler, 2002). However as all students have been controlled by the
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Maya Newell 42521336

Reflective Essay

EDUC3706

strings of Eurocentric knowledge, they have had little preparation to operate in


the complex changing and uncertain life situations (Visnovska, 2014).
Although Miss Dean provides differentiated answers or items for the task sheet,
being in the school for 15 years meant she often took the traditional approach
and the classroom lacked flexibility. Introducing inquiry through discussion will
allow students to explore mathematical ideas by arguing, justifying and
hypothesising a direction to their inquiry (Boaler, 2002) (Visnovska, 2014).
Through providing students authentic problems, they are able to recognise the
complexities of real-world problems (Visnovska, 2014). These open ended
approaches not only give access to a depth of understanding of a subject but
encourage personal and intellectual freedom for all students in the classroom
(Boaler, 2002). These students are allowed to investigate a problem that is of
interest to them and it is complete when they feel their result are sufficiently
resolved (Visnovska, 2014). Providing this sense of freedom for these students
allows for the students so locked into the cultural capital game to recognise a
sense of independence to question mathematics and develop skills to do so.
This observed lesson brought to light how constructivism in investigations take
place within the students physical and social interactions within the
mathematical environment. However, through shifting the rigid mentality of
traditional teaching to an inquiry based approach, students will gain a sense of
autonomy, a skill greatly needed in this rapidly changing world.

References:
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. (2014) Mathematics:
foundation to year 10 curriculum. Sydney, N.S.W: ACARA.
Anghileri, J. (2006). Scaffolding practices that enhance mathematics learning.
Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, 9(1), 33-52. doi:10.1007/s10857-0069005-9
Boaler, J. (2002). Learning from teaching: Exploring the relationship between
reform curriculum and equity. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education,
33(4), 239-258.

Maya Newell 42521336

Reflective Essay

EDUC3706

Bruner, J. S. (2007). On learning mathematics. The Mathematics Teacher, 100,


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