Math Outside the Textbook

Vera C. Teschow

we soon discovered that not everything in the textbook is in the curriculum. Nor is everything that the students in any given class need in the textbook! For example, while “mode” is referred to in the Grade 3 Math curriculum, it is not included in the textbook. Furthermore, I had students in my class whose numeracy skills were considerably  below  grade  level,  and  in  many cases the multi-digit addition and subtraction problems presented in the textbook were decidedly out of reach. Creating our own lesson plans that allowed students to consolidate skills from previous curriculum years helped them begin to meet the expectations of their grade level in a more realistic manner.

As we worked together to look at students’ work, and use ongoing assessment to develop lesson and unit plans for each new topic in the math curriculum, my colleague and I began to build up a much stronger mathematical and pedagogical understanding.

Departing from the textbook meant that we could modify lessons on the fly more easily, or create entirely new lessons in order to respond to what we were seeing in the classroom. For instance, when we developed an oral  geometry  assessment/mini-conference to complete with each individual student, we were able to use the one-on-one time to confirm what each student knew, and do some intensive,  on-the-spot  teaching  with  those who needed a little extra support. I remember the light bulb going on for one little girl as I gently probed her understanding  of  clock- wise and counter clockwise turns of varying degrees; the comfort she had developed as a mathematical risk taker allowed her to make connections to what she already knew, and to celebrate her evolving understanding of this geometric concept.

One of the things I liked about developing our own lessons was that we could choose the context, and often, we changed names or scenarios to reflect the cultural reality in our classrooms. Apples became  samosas, while Halloween parties  became  Eid  or  Chinese New Year’s celebrations as we modified problems from other sources. The students were excited to explore math  concepts  found in their own worlds, and it was clear from their increased engagement that they were able to relate in a way that was different from previous classes I had taught.

Towards the end of the year, we started to venture into more specifically social justice related problems, using picture books and other rich mentor texts as context. My  students very much enjoyed the “rich mentor text wall” we created together as we engaged in conversations about a variety of “big” topics from racism to literacy to poverty, inspired by books like Eve Bunting’s  The Wednesday 


Teacher working with student using a laptop

This program opened the door to creative thinking about literacy and technology that invigorated my passion for teaching and my students’ passion for learning.

children dancing or exercising in classroom

A session at a conference I recently attended focused on a provocative and compelling new report from the Commission on the Whole Child, fo