In 2016, a study group began researching new and innovative methods to teach and assess mathematics at the elementary school level. The result was a robust program adopted by Byram Hills, known as Math Investigations. “We chose Investigations because it aligned with our philosophy of how to engage students through a hands-on approach,” said Peggy McInerney, Wampus Principal. “It is an inquiry-based model. It allows students to acquire the skills and knowledge in mathematics that they need to build upon in the second half of their educational journey.”
Investigations emphasizes the notion that we are surrounded by math in our daily lives. The earlier it can be recognized and understood, the more mathematically secure students will be when they move on to middle school. This conceptual way of thinking is more comprehensive than a procedural program. It values collaboration and exploration in problem-based learning by allowing students to make connections and draw upon prior knowledge to deepen their understanding.
An example of math practices in Investigations is Ten Minute Math. “This activity provides a daily routine and review that supports each unit of study,” said Jeanne Marie Key, fourth-grade teacher. “These lessons also create a community of math learners that discuss problem-solving strategies while listening to their classmates' techniques.” Talking about math helps elementary students deepen their understanding as they process concepts differently.
“At this age, we utilize ‘learning to read’ and ‘reading to learn’ to support the language of mathematics. Reading comprehension plays a huge part in understanding the Base Ten Number System. As students progress through the elementary years, the importance of reading ability plays a pivotal role,” Mrs. McInerney explained. “They must learn and understand all of the components that go into the Base Ten Number System to master fluency and comprehension.”
Math Investigations prepares students for the next stage of learning. “We need our children to understand math from its different representations, from concrete to pictorial, to procedural, to linear, to abstract,” said Mrs. McInerney. “One of our most important jobs is to help students keep an open mind about math problems. This program allows our abstract thinkers to find flexibility in math, which is an important learning disposition in the development of strong math thinkers.”
Investigations is accessible for all students regardless of academic aptitude. A teacher may ask how students arrived at a particular answer and request to see their work. They may receive several yet equally viable explanations that can start a conversation about the language of math. “This system helps students think about the meaning of the numbers,” Mrs. McInerney said. “The benefit of Math Investigations is not to over complicate math, but to recognize that it is all around us.”
This mathematics system corresponds with the Byram Hills School District’s initiative of producing life-long learners. “Investigations works with our goal of creating the leaders of tomorrow,” Mrs. McInerney concluded. “Tomorrow's leaders need to learn how to think critically, solve problems, and work collaboratively while also being proficient in core skills and concepts in mathematics.”