Are we all “math teachers?”

This is a post that I’ve been thinking about for a while now, but a conversation with a good friend over the Break, helped me finally formulate what I wanted to write. During the school year, we have seven P.A. Days: these days are used for a variety of things, including professional development, assessment/evaluation, and report card writing. One of our recent P.A. Days had us looking closely, talking about, and planning for math. Inevitably, discussions among educators after this day had people questioning, but what about those teachers that don’t teach math?

I’m sure that we can all think of these teachers in our school. Maybe they’re …

  • the librarian.
  • the phys-ed teacher.
  • the music teacher.
  • the art teacher.

There could even be more educators to add to this list, and I can understand why people might question these individuals spending their day learning about quality math instruction. Yes, we can all see value in learning for learning’s sake, but nobody wants to waste their time. Is a focus on math, a “waste” for these people?

There might have been a time that I would have argued “yes,” but now I take a different perspective. What if we didn’t see “math” as a separate subject, but as a way of thinking, learning, and problem solving in all that we do? In a way, this is almost like the Kindergarten approach to mathematics, but I’m hoping that this thought process can extend beyond Kindergarten. 

I keep reflecting on these examples from previous years: both from my own experiences in teaching and those that I have read about from others.

Holiday Decorating=Mathematical Thinking

More ‘Fame’, More Letters, More Fractions

When we make the link between math and these other content areas, I think wonderful things begin to happen.

  • More students begin to view themselves as mathematicians. We’ve all heard kids say before, “I’m not good at math,” or “This is really hard for me.” But sometimes, when we find another way to help students understand and apply mathematical concepts, they become more confident in their skills. 
  • Students begin to understand why math is important. It’s often when these skills are embedded in other curriculum areas, that children begin to make the real world connections to what they’re learning. This is when it’s so important to do what’s emphasized in the Kindergarten Program Document and “notice and name” the math learning. Then the mathematical connections are clear!
  • Students get more meaningful practice time. Some math concepts can be challenging for students. The dedicated math block each day may not be enough time for some kids to review and practice different skills. But when math is embedded in other subject areas, more time is invested in the subject, and often times, what didn’t “click” before may click later.
  • Spiralling begins to happen. While I’ve heard lots of talk about “spiralling math,” and I know some educators that do it, a strand-by-strand approach is still very common for many. But when we look at all subject areas as good places to reinforce, teach, and extend math thinking and learning, often one strand doesn’t align well with all subjects. Instead then, students get opportunities to explore different strands, and maybe even different process expectations, in the various subject areas. 

  • We move from specific expectations to big ideas. There are many specific expectations in the Math Curriculum Document, and I think it’s easy to get caught up in trying to meet every one of them. I’m not necessarily saying that it’s a bad thing to teach it all, but my concern is that in an attempt to do so, we miss some of the bigger thinking and learning opportunities for students. There is a lot of value in the process expectations, and it’s these expectations that could align really well with other subject areas. Maybe by focusing on them in these areas, we help students become more mathematically confident learners.

My belief is that if we want to change mathematical mindsets, then we have to communicate to children that they are “mathematicians,” and we have to make math about more than a 60 minute block that happens every day. I can’t help but think about the 100 Languages of ChildrenIs “math” one of these “languages,” and do we need to help students communicate more frequently in mathematical ways? The Kindergarten Program Document has done away with subject areas, and I know that this is not the case for Grades 1-12 educators, but is there a way to make subjects more fluid? What value might there be for educators and students if “math” existed in all that we do? This might seem like a Utopian ideal, but I’d like to believe there’s a way to make it a reality. How, and where, do we start?



6 thoughts on “Are we all “math teachers?”

  1. Thanks for articulating this so well, Aviva!

    We worked on this idea extensively last year through #notabookstudy. A wonderful starting point is these podcasts:

    Also, we challenged educators (still do) to mathematize their world. #mathematizethis became a popular hashtag where educators look at their world through the lens of creating contextual problems from their surroundings.

    Both are worth further exploration as we work to ensure that all children are mathematicians!

    For further thinking: and from Matthew Oldridge:

    • Thank you so much, Donna, for your comment and these links. While I remember seeing both at the time, I really should go back and look at them. Sharing these links with others may be a great way to start building on the idea that “math” is about way more than just a subject that happens in isolation.


  2. Awesome post, Aviva! While my work right now is almost exclusively with math teachers, your final point – moving from specific expectations to big ideas – is something I believe we can all work on a little more. It’s easy, from a math teacher’s perspective, to get caught up in each and every specific expectation. Focusing on the big idea really opens the door to new connections, the idea of spiralling, and even the discovery of new methods. Thanks for sharing – all the best for a great Monday back tomorrow!

    • Thanks Heather! Great point about “big ideas.” I wonder if this is also why our Board has focused more on the process expectations, and we seem to be discussing them more during our Math P.D. sessions. There’s something to be said for this learning for everyone.

      Have a great day tomorrow too!

  3. Aviva, I really like the direction that your post takes us… and for me, that’s the decompartmentalization of mathematics and really, all subjects. I think our leaders really have to find creative ways to make that happen for students so that they can find meaning and purpose in our buildings instead of just “doing school”. Thanks for sharing. This certainly resonates with me today.

    • Thanks Joe! I think that we need to develop thinkers and problem solvers that understand “why they do what they do,” and not just because we asked/told them to do it. This is true for all subject areas. And I think that if we can make this happen, then maybe we also change what “doing school” is all about. And if, as educators, we work together more — and not just in subject specific areas — then I think that we also provide richer, deeper learning experiences for kids. I know that we’re all at different places in feeling comfortable with this approach, but I wonder how we might move forward as a bigger system.


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