Action research is a way for educators to reflect, alter, and learn from their professional development inquiries. When I started with this project, they described it as "the pebble in your shoe" that you want to figure out and research. Action research is incredible to read and explore as well because the theories and learning is taking place in an actual classroom...what is better than that?!
Last year I had struggled with how to intentionally teach math to young children who come with varying academic and developmental understandings of math.
What we knew for sure was that the messages in Full Day Kindergarten around large group instruction are quite clear: maximum message, minimum time. Although this is a message for FDK, I would say that as we move forward in education - this should be the same message for all grade levels. The best instruction comes through learning centres, long uninterrupted periods of play, and intentional small group instruction.
Having taught in primary and junior classrooms, I have used the structure of the 3 part problem across the grades. I have found value in the structure and the process of this framework. The biggest challenge to 3 part problem solving in kindergarten is that it could not happen during large group instruction all in one day.
So...we formulated our action research question:
How would using learning centres and small group instruction on the “working on it” portion of a three-part math lesson impact the strategies Kindergarten students choose?
We began our research by looking at the "gurus" in early math research. Doug Clements was a reoccuring name and his messages focused around the need for balance in early math education. He explains that children cannot get all of their "math learning" through play. There is a need for intentional teaching (or formal math instruction) of certain math concepts.
1. We hooked the children (by connecting the problem to their interests, ideas, or familiar literature). We wanted to ensure that children felt connected to the problem that was being presented.
2. Learning Centre Provocation: we set out intentional materials for the children to solve the problem (as we progressed in this process - the children became a part of selecting which materials would support their learning)
3. During Learning Centres: variety of support systems for children (some 1:1 instruction/support, small group interactions, independent work) - we captured the learning through photos, videos (which I love!), observational notes, and work samples (when it made sense).
4. Reflection/Sharing: closer to the end of the week (or when interest in the problem began to fade) we would carefully select students and prep them to share their thinking with others. Although this stage was not the focus of our research, we learned so much about the importance of sharing and its benefits if structured appropriately.
As always there are children who may never choose to explore a math problem, so we invited them! I think it is important for educators to remember that it is always ok to invite children to join activities if you think it will be beneficial for them. However, it is of course always about balance.
- We have learned that the 3 part math model is applicable and successful in the FDK classroom. Children were able to come up with multiple solutions and used various strategies to solve open ended problems. It supports their mathematical learning and development.
- As we continue on our journey in problem solving, we hope to develop strategies and ways to support students in learning cooperatively together. We will also work towards coming up with questions that may better lend themselves to encouraging cooperative learning amongst peers.
- We learned through this study that many of the children struggle to verbalize their thinking when solving problems or explaining their solutions. We have begun to model and support the children in verbalizing their thinking and will continue to find ways to support them in this area.