Laurie Boswell, Ed.D., is an outstanding and nationally recognized math coach, speaker, and author who has over 35 years of experience in teaching mathematics from elementary to college in New Hampshire and Vermont. Since 1992, Laurie has co-authored numerous successful math series with Ron Larson and has held significant leadership positions in NCTM, NCSM, and CPAM among others. We sat down with Dr. Boswell to discuss the current challenges in the classroom and how she recommends overcoming them.
What are some of the most common challenges faced in today’s classrooms?
One of the big challenges teachers are faced with is the wide range of students in their classroom, and by range I'm referring to their background experiences. Teachers are called to support and challenge students at every level, all while making sure that students are progressing in their learning.
Another challenge is the varied interests that our students have and how teachers are asked to capitalize on those interests through the context of the tasks that we pose and concepts that we need to teach.
As a seasoned educator, how would you go about addressing some of those challenges in your own classroom?
It’s important for teachers to get their students engaged in mathematics, so they can think deeper about the problem. Students need to think about the problem in ways they can understand; how the problem might connect to some past learning experience.
It’s not about the deficits students have, it's about having the problem broken down for them in the right context. Students need to think about the problem in terms of what they know. Thinking about it in terms of a strengths-based approach versus a deficit.
What are some strategies teachers can use to help their students gain conceptual understanding of a mathematical concept?
It is my belief that students should explore the mathematics, discuss the mathematics, and understand the mathematics. To accomplish that, teachers need to be very intentional in applying mathematical standards and mathematical practices.
In many classrooms across the country, I often see those practices on the wall. Educators who implement the effective teaching practices, that have been identified in materials written by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and the research of Dr. John Hattie in Visible Learning, will recognize an improvement in their students’ conceptual understanding of the mathematics.
Why is it so important that students learn to apply the knowledge they gained rather than memorizing procedures and rules?
I always try to remind teachers, whether it be in tutorial videos or Laurie’s Notes, we don't want students to memorize procedures and rules. We want students to understand the mathematics. Memorizing rules only gets them through a day or two, maybe a little bit longer. If I've memorized something without understanding, I can't apply it later.
I had the opportunity to teach all grade levels from kindergarten through college. I often encountered students who memorized a rule or procedure long ago, and when asked to apply it in a new setting, they couldn’t do it because they only memorized it and had no understanding as to how or why the procedure works.
It is so important that we don't rush the mathematics. I understand there is a great deal of pressure on all educators in the classroom and not only because of testing, but also because of administrative and parental pressures. When we rush by having students simply memorize a rule and not understand it, then we are setting them up for difficulty later.
So, I encourage you not to rush the mathematics.
About Big Ideas Learning
At Big Ideas Learning, we believe in the highest-impact teaching strategies to empower teachers inside the classroom, so we can inspire students beyond the classroom. With a singular focus in mathematics, we are uniquely qualified and committed to supporting you at every step along your mathematics journey.