SGS Math Team: A Trip Recap and Our Math Philosophy

Phelana Pang
Our math team traveled to Austin, TX in July to attend a professional development workshop.  At the Number Lab hosted by Long-View School, we engaged as mathematicians. We discussed how to set up supportive math communities where students engage in mathematical discourse and build on each others’ learning.  We learned about and engaged in several teaching practices such as the 100’s chart, number line, and studio time to support critical thinking and collaborative learning.

The SGS math program is guided by these four principles:
  • Girls and gender diverse students are math capable and deserve hard math; it’s our (teachers’, students’, families’) job to help each other believe that learners have a significant capacity for deep understanding.
  • Persevering and struggling productively are a part of the learning process; contributions are more valued for their reasonableness than for their accuracy.
  • Collaborating, vocally agreeing and disagreeing, asking questions, reasoning, listening, understanding the thinking of others in community develops our deep understanding of math concepts
  • Taking risks (sharing an idea when you’re not sure it’s correct, disagreeing publicly, trying something uncomfortable or challenging, admitting when you don’t know, asking questions to further your own and others’ understanding, struggling productively) strengthens our learning community.

    We’re focusing on developing mathematicians, and less on teaching math students in the traditional sense.  The following table is adapted from the Number Lab:

    School Math (traditional)
    Outcome = math students
    Math as a discipline
    Outcome = mathematician
    What it looks like for the student:
    • Receives instructions
    • Memorizes large volumes of information, uses algorithms without necessarily having conceptual understanding
    • Sees math as static, as a collection of discrete skills and facts
    • Believes that finding the solution is the most important
    • Looks to make math interesting
    What it looks like for the student:
    • Contributes to math discussion; co-creates math understanding
    • Thinks critically and creatively, works collaboratively, communicates clearly
    • Sees math as a growing body of knowledge to which one can contribute
    • Believes that the learning process as the most important
    • Finds math already interesting

    How do we challenge all students in math?  What does differentiation look like?
    For any given concept, we allow students to choose their challenge.  For example, 7th grade students can explore the concept of equality with problems ranging from a simple equation to multiple equations with two variables. These same types of problems would be given out to all students, and students start with the problem at their self-assessed level and continue to progress to more advanced problems as they explain their reasoning.

    14 = x - 2
    2x + 7 = 27
    4x - 3 = 3x + 6
    2(x + 7) = x -(7x +10)
    y = 3x + 5 and y = 5x +2

    How will our students be prepared for high school?
    Students will have completed Algebra 1 by the time they graduate from SGS.  Rather than focusing on challenging our students through acceleration, we challenge our students in applying concepts and explaining their reasoning over completing problems and using formulas.  Students carry these reasoning skills into their math classes in high school, along with skills in self-advocacy and collaboration.

    The SGS Math Team
    Sophie Taylor, 5th Grade Math Teacher
    Shannon O’Malley, 6th Grade Math Teacher
    Casey Kono, 6th/7th Grade Math Associate Teacher
    Jordan Hodge, 7th Grade Math Teacher
    Brook Achterhof, 8th Grade Math Teacher
    Phelana Pang, Assistant Head of School

Located in the Central District, Seattle Girls' School is an independent school for girls and gender nonconforming students in grades 5-8. Our mission is to inspire and develop courageous leaders who think independently, work collaboratively, learn joyfully, and champion change.