Making Math Meaningful: A Case Study in Powerful Student Connection

by | Jan 15, 2018

Richard Saul Wurman said that to learn something it must stimulate your curiosity. In other words, interest precedes learning. Connection and relevance happen when we stimulate an emotional response, which is essential to learning. Simply put, if our students have no personal stake in what we teach, learning will not happen. Our priority then in today’s classrooms is ensuring powerful student connection to learning occurs in all our lessons.

Desirae Matthew, a math teacher at GEMS Dubai American Academy, understands this well. Mathematics can be a difficult subject to generate interest in for many students. Desirae turned to the Essential Fluencies and a simple emotional connection to turn this around for her learners. That’s when truly powerful student connection began to happen.

The Problem: How to Make Math Meaningful

The first step for Desirae was to define the problem, which was with connection. No matter how important the content is or the skills it builds are, our students won’t connect to what we teach if it isn’t somehow meaningful to them.

“I’ve taught math at many levels throughout my career,” Desirae explains. “While our topics have real-life applications, there is somewhat of a disconnect in finding the applications that are relevant and meaningful to the students.” To get her learners engaged, she began with the ultimate tool for fostering authentic learning adventures: an essential question.

The Process: Exploring What’s Important

By asking her students what was most important to them, Desirae recieved heartfelt responses that let her realign her goals to those of her students. Next, she gave each student group a standard to unpack and explore. The teams used both Solution Fluency and Collaboration Fluency to take responsibility for their learning.

“They were able to define what the standard was asking for and create their own examples of how they may see it in problem-solving situations,” says Desirae. “They were responsible for delegating their own tasks and organizing their roles to both create and present their examples.” Her students provided multimedia presentations of every sort to demonstrate learning, and also taught the concepts they learned to others.

The Outcome: Meaningful Math and Powerful Student Connection

When asked how learning transformed for her students, Desirae marvelled at their accomplishments. “Students have greater responsibility for what they learn and how they learn it,” she claims. “They are in control of the classroom throughout the process and it is centered on the students.”

In addition to this, the powerful student connection she made has lead to higher levels of learning than ever before. “Stages of Bloom’s Taxonomy are more evident now than I have ever seen them,” she adds. “Students transition between roles during the lesson including teacher, learner, researcher, facilitator, etc.”

The Next Steps: Higher and Higher Learning

When it comes to the Fluencies, Desirae and her students are excited for what’s on the horizon. “My students and I will continue to roll out the Fluencies and look for more ways to develop our learning in the classroom,” she explains. “The energy in the classroom has changed completely—we evaluate methods and processes and incorporate reflection frequently. We are growing individually and together.”

You can read more about the journey of Desirae and her students in the full case study below. Share in the stories of the teachers and students that are our friends and inspirations.

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