Making Math Matter

Ryan Branoff

As an educator it has been my goal to captivate my students and engage them in their work However, engagement is not easy to come by when many students are uninterested in the subject matter that I am trying to teach. When I first began teaching I recognized a major issue for my students (and for me!): they didn’t like math.

Could I blame them? When I was a student, my attitude toward math was no different. It was the subject I liked least because it was repetitive and we were expected to learn by rote. I found math irrelevant and unimportant. This experience is what motivated me as an educator. I asked myself how I was going to engage and challenge my students critically about math when I hadn’t much liked it myself.

I had to consider twenty-first-century learners and their demands for engagement. I knew that giving my students ownership and making math relevant were my best options.

Enter the three-part lesson

The Three-Part Lesson in Mathematics: Co-planning, Co-teaching and Supporting Student Learning ( http://resources.curriculum.org/secretariat/coplanning/) is a wonderful instructional tool provided by the ministry of education. This resource gave me an opportunity to reformat how I taught math. It allowed my students to take ownership of their learning and allowed me to have a classroom full of critical thinkers and problem solvers who were interested in math.

The essence of the three-part lesson is to give students open-ended problems with multiple entry points. Students work with partners at their level to problem-solve and develop a result. They are encouraged to justify their thinking by any means necessary and use the methods that best suit their needs. My role as the teacher is to facilitate and guide their thinking without pushing them toward one commonly practised method.

After students have had the opportunity to work through the problem, we discuss as a class the different methods they used, what worked and what didn’t. This is a fantastic way to get the dialogue going in a mathematics classroom! I encourage my students to justify their thinking. The discussion also provides them with the chance to ask questions, and develop an understanding of concepts that they didn’t quite get. Students who have developed an interesting way of solving the problem take a lot of pride in their work and are willing to act as peer teachers for the rest of the class. The students who have difficulty coming to an end result are now learning as a result of the interaction with their learning partners and from the class discussion. Students are not worried about taking a risk or getting a “wrong” answer because they know that they will be able to gain an understanding of the concept during the discussion portion of the lesson.


empty elementary classroom

This September, after several years as a program resource consultant and a term as an acting vice-principal, I’m returning to the classroom

Parents with child looking at the child's work

Joyce Public School is located in northwest Toronto, in an unprepossessing one-storey brick building.