The math program at Westland first develops a child’s mathematical thinking, presenting real-world math problems that put math concepts in context. We then engage in problem solving, often in small, collaborative groups, which serves to develop a solid conceptual understanding of the math concept. This often results in multiple strategies, including traditional algorithms, to solve a particular type of problem. Finally, concepts are solidified through practice and focus on efficiency and accuracy. This process gives students at Westland a true understanding of the topics and processes studied. It also allows them to remain grounded in a strong sense of number and number relationships as they delve deeply into increasingly complex mathematics.
As with all areas of learning at Westland, our math program takes an integrated, experiential approach, encouraging children to develop excitement and curiosity about math in addition to gaining a deep grasp of the subject.
Meaningful learning experiences that arise naturally out of classroom activities are particularly effective in building mathematical understanding. As students ask questions, explore possibilities, and reach conclusions, they make direct connections with real-life problems and enhance both math and critical thinking skills.
Using National Council of Teachers of Mathematics standards as a framework, daily activities are dovetailed with NCTM tenets. Classrooms are designed to foster math “encounters,” and taking cues from the children, teachers guide their students to develop intuitive math reasoning through exploration, and then to assimilate additional facts and techniques when the timing is right.
Block building, for example, presents many opportunities for absorbing math concepts. Since unit blocks are all fractional parts or multiples of each other, students learn about symmetry, patterns, mapping, measurement, sorting, classifying, spatial orientation, multiplication, fractions, and geometry all through their block-building explorations.
When skills are formally introduced, the children are given language and symbols for concepts they have learned. Tasks are developed to provide practice in crucial computational skills and their applications, which leads to proficiency in basic operations. This enables students to approach increasingly complex problem solving with confidence. Making use of several source materials, including the math series known as Investigations, teachers enrich and advance the learning of math.
Students work collaboratively as they discuss mathematical investigations. Westland teaches children to value multiple strategies for finding an answer to any given mathematical question. Through the inquiry process, children are allowed time to experience productive reflective thinking and become members of a community of mathematical learners.
John Dewey pointed out long ago that effective learning involves a combination of conceptual and technical understanding. Our math program seeks to join the two in a way that intuitively engages our students, so that math becomes a tool for practical problem-solving in school and in life.