The topic of mathematics and in particular, the debate about teaching the ‘basics’ versus teaching a ‘problem solving’ approach has been given a great deal of attention in recent years. In fact, the passionate views within these two camps have resulted in divisiveness and a singular view that there is only one right way to teach numeracy. Classroom teachers have not been immune to this controversy and in effect, students have been caught in this tug-of-war as well.
Intuitively, educators strive to find a middle ground or a balanced approach in designing lessons when teaching numeracy. Like when learning a new instrument, the student needs to focus on notes, theory and composition, and when learning numeracy, students need to become adept with basic facts (fluency) and problem solving (comprehension) as well.
British Columbia’s redesigned curriculum incorporates the following areas of learning: Big Ideas (Understand), Curricular Competencies & Learning Standards (Do), and Content Learning Standards (Know).
Embedded within the curriculum are the goals of developing computational fluency, number sense and operations. The goals of B.C.’s math curriculum expects students to learn at deep levels and states that students are expected to:
- develop a deep understanding of both factual (content) and processed-based (curricular competencies) information; each of these forms of knowledge are needed to solve complex problems
- use flexible, effective, and accurate strategies to analyze and solve increasingly complex problems
- view and navigate their world with a mathematical perspective
The challenge for B.C.’s educators is not only to deliver on these goals, but to design lessons with these objectives in mind.
Unlike the area of literacy where a variety of balanced assessments exist, a further challenge for teachers has been the lack of quality numeracy assessments. With the exception of the A.N.I.E. (Assessment of Numeracy for Education), there have been few numeracy assessments created that target both students’ strengths and areas that require further attention. Knowing that the most effective assessments can be used for, as and of learning, the need for such an assessment in numeracy is evident.
S.N.A.P. (Student Numeracy Assessment Practice) was developed by a group of educators in Chilliwack, B.C. with the goal of assessing students’ numeracy skills in both number sense and operations.
Within the number sense section, students are challenged to:
- draw to represent the value of a number,
- write to describe the picture,
- write the number in expanded form,
- create three equations that equal the number;
- write a real-life example that shows the value of the number.
- Students are also required to count forwards and backwards from the number,
- show where the number belongs on a number line;
- and then reflect on the whole process.
For operations, students are given a question and are then asked to:
- estimate and justify their thinking,
- represent the algorithm with a sketch or drawing
- explain their drawing,
- calculate to find the answer,
- write a real-life example or word problem for the operation
- and then reflect on the whole process.
S.N.A.P. addresses all curricular competencies whereupon students are expected to: Reason and Analyze, Understand and Solve, Communicate and Represent, Connect and Reflect, together with addressing many of the Content Learning Standards as well.
Since implementing S.N.A.P. in the school where I work, there has been a marked improvement in both the attitude and the proficiencies of our students in numeracy. We have many students from Kindergarten to Grade Six who are competent in all facets of the S.N.A.P. and we have had many educators from other school districts in B.C. visit and observe our students display their learning. Our teachers have a valuable instrument that can be used to guide their whole group and small group instruction and our students have a template to demonstrate their mathematical thinking and reasoning.
Both the ‘basics’ and ‘problem solving’ are emphasized on a daily basis and just like preparing students to play in a concert, both the rigour of daily practice and interpreting the score are necessary in creating a harmonious sound. S.N.A.P. keeps these facets in balance and is proving to be invaluable in our aim as outlined in B.C.’s curriculum overview of having our students, “understand and apply mathematical concepts, processes and skills to solve problems in a variety of contexts.”
For further information about S.N.A.P. visit http://snap.sd33.bc.ca