A New Approach

In the fall, our math teachers shared their common mission for the year: to help all students develop their skills and capacities to collaborate, persevere, and take risks in the classroom. Teachers would be applying the pedagogical framework laid out in the book Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics to develop a deep understanding of the content at every level of our Bosque School mathematics curriculum. With summer now in sight, classes have had nearly an entire school year to dive into the new approach—and the results have been remarkable. 
While classes are still covering the same math concepts as years past, teachers are challenging the pedagogy and the way the curriculum is delivered. Some important components of this new approach: students must work in small, randomized groups and write on vertical, erasable surfaces. Instead of having students work toward an answer independently at their desks, they focus on solving the problem collaboratively—even if a solution is nowhere in sight. “This approach says you can start solving a problem even though the path is not entirely clearly laid out for you,” said Heather Sullivan, middle school math teacher.  
Weaving the Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics concepts into their classrooms, teachers are typically kicking off each math class with a challenging warm-up problem that requires students to connect skills and collaborate with one another. “The neat thing about it is that over time they learn that if they get stuck as a group, they can look around the room and see what other groups are doing,” said Tricia Phaneuf, upper school math teacher. “It has become more of a communal approach, teaching them collaboration and problem-solving and the ability to work with different people, in addition to whatever curriculum we’re working on.” Sam Burnett who teaches middle school math added, “This approach is about taking the math classroom and changing it to be more congruent with what problem-solving looks like in the real world.” In the real world, individuals work together to solve problems—not in a siloed format without any resources or collaboration.  
After months of applying this approach to their classrooms, every math teacher agreed that their students seem more comfortable making mistakes, and the teachers have observed an increase in students’ engagement, confidence, and vulnerability when doing math. Jessica Fillmore, who teaches upper school math, noticed that her students became more willing to take risks. “They are so much more willing to try something new in their groups in a way that they wouldn’t have tried it at their desk working independently on a piece of paper.” She remarked, “It’s been really magical, actually.”  
Through the results, it’s clear that the approach is working. It’s helping students become a little bit more comfortable with being uncomfortable, creating a safe space to make mistakes, and building confidence and community in the classroom.