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The Talking Head

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Learning Mathematics at ICS Addis

The World Economic Forum (WEF) recently published research suggesting that students of today need to develop two important skills for success in the future world of work: people skills and math skills. I’m glad to say both are areas of focus when teachers talk about student learning at ICS Addis.

This week our teachers are focused on learning more about good mathematics assessment and teaching practices with international consultant Erma Anderson. Ms. Anderson’s passion for math teaching and learning is infectious! She is helping all our elementary teachers and all our MS/HS math teachers dive deeply into planning for engaging math teaching and learning that includes rich practices such as problem solving, reasoning, modeling, communicating…and not just fluency with math procedures and arithmetic, the way you and I were taught.

There has been a lot of research around the world on what effective math teaching looks like. Effective teaching practices in mathematics include:

  1. A clear progression of learning goals within and across grade levels
  2. Authentic tasks that promote reasoning and problem solving
  3. Using mathematical representations and making connections between them
  4. Meaningful mathematical conversations and collaboration
  5. Purposeful questions to focus on reasoning and “sense making”
  6. Building procedural fluency and conceptual understanding
  7. Supporting productive struggle by students individually and collectively
  8. Using evidence of thinking and learning to assess student progress and to adjust instruction

I see evidence of these eight (VIII, 810 or 108) practices in ICS classrooms already, and I know that Ms. Anderson’s visit will make them even more prevalent.

Ms. Anderson has highlighted one problem to us that is faced by many independent schools such as ours. The MAP tests that we use to assess student learning are only measuring about one-quarter (1/4, 25% or 0.25) of the math skills that we want our students to develop. So, with her guidance, we’re giving careful thought to standardized assessments that tap into modeling, reasoning, problem solving and other essential math skills…assessments we might be able to adapt and use across the grade levels to assess student progress and adjust classroom teaching. Other International Schools are doing similar things, so we hope to begin collaborating with them to begin using this type of assessment in the coming years, to complement our use of the MAP. This initiative would give us a fuller picture over time of our students’ growth and readiness for deeper levels of mathematics.

“In math classes we often teach children to solve elementary problems with complex mathematics, but in real life we solve complex problems with elementary math.”

From Erma Anderson (origin of quote unknown)

We know the problems our children will face in the future cannot be solved alone. By focusing on deep learning in mathematics, in ways that foster the development of skills such as communication, empathy and collaboration, we believe—as does the WEF—that our students will be ready to tackle those future problems together. 

You can read a brief summary of the WEF report (or download their 167-page “Future of Jobs” report) at: