Transdisciplinary Math – An epiphany and a plan!

For the past few weeks I have been helping my teams review their math scope and sequence and decide which math is transdisciplinary and fits within a Unit of Inquiry and what math is better taught in stand-alone units. This process always seems to lead to the same conclusion….

Teaching math in a transdisciplinary way is hard. 

Teachers seem to believe in the purpose and power of teaching math in a relevant and significant context and want to do it… but most seem not too sure about how to do it.

As I get ready to transition back into the classroom in the fall, this is something that has started to occupy my mind as well. How DO you do it? The last time I was a PYP teacher I can self-admit that teaching math within the context of my UOIs was not a strength of mine – in fact, I’m not sure if I did it at all. So naturally, this is an area I want to get much better at. But how? 

And then I had an idea! It hit me this weekend while I was watching BBC’s Africa series.

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Since teaching math in a transdisciplinary way was on my mind, I couldn’t help but notice that every vignette was OVERFLOWING with opportunities for math inquiries!

The average size of a giraffe’s tongue is half a meter.”

“Only one out of 1000 turtles make it to adult hood.”

One million birds migrate over the Sahara each year.”

“Each chick weighs only 20 grams.”

“The adult grows to be 5 times the size of the baby.”

“Silver ants can only survive in the sun for 1 hour.”

Every few minutes there was some piece of information about an animal or a landscape or a natural phenomenon where you needed to understand the math concept being referenced in order to fully understand what was being said. And that is when it hit me! All of the movies, books, articles, graphics etc. we use in our Units of Inquiry probably already contain opportunities for math – we just need to be looking for them and know what to do with them!

So here is my plan for next year!

Step 1- Introduce a text related to the central idea or the central concepts.

As usual, choose (or invite your students to help choose) a resources to explore the big idea in your current Unit of Inquiry. Introduce the text in an open-ended way. Allow the students to engage with the text in a natural and organic way. Read the book. Watch the movie. Listen to the song. Look at the info graphic. Allow the students to enjoy it and ask questions, make connections and offer thoughts. I’m thinking of using a back channel like Today’s Meet to allow students to communicate their thoughts, reactions and questions with their learning community while watching, listening or looking without interrupting one another. You could also provide post-its so students could record their thinking if a device is not available.

Step 2 – Revisit the text with a math focus

The next day, revisit the same text, but this time let students know that they will be looking at the text as mathematicians. Re-read the book. Re-watch the movie. Re-listen to the song. Re-look at the infographic. But this time, stop and pay specific attention to the “math moments”. If the video says “Giraffes’ tongues are half a meter long” pause the video and ask students, “What does that mean?” “How long is that?” “How can we find out?” “How can we show it?”. Any time a number, a measurement, a statistic, a pattern, or a concept is mentioned stop, point it out and explore it.

Step 3 – Follow where it takes you

When you stop to explore the math within a UOI text, be prepared to follow the inquiry. If it takes 10 minutes great. If it reveals other math concepts, skills and vocabulary that need to be explored first, back up and inquire into those. If your students need to bust out some manipulatives, look online, consult other mathematicians – do it! Allow what ever time is needed to explore and truly understand what the math means in that context.

Step 4 – Don’t stop at math! 

After the initial open-ended viewing and the math-specific viewing… keep going! You could apply the same strategy for many different purposes. Explore the same text a third time with a writer’s lens and hone in on the techniques the writer used. Explore the same text with a musician’s perspective and focus on how different segments of music contribute to the message. Explore the same text from an artist’s point of view to analyze colour, line and shape that was used. This would be a great opportunity to connect with single-subject teachers and share some of the texts with them to be looked at and deconstructed multiple times, in multiple ways, through multiple disciplinary-perspectives. Your whole week could be deconstructing one text in different ways for different purposes!

Eventually, I believe you will be able to get to the stage where instead of telling students “here is the math” when exploring a UOI text, you will be able to ask them “where is the math?”.  I also have the sneaking suspicion that if you allow students to document their thinking during the initial, unstructured exploration of the text there will be some math-related questions that are recorded about the quantities, measurements and statistics that are referenced. So you wouldn’t even need to point out the math, you could allow students’ own questions to be the driving force of the math inquiry.

So I challenge you… go back and look at some of your UOI books, videos, graphics etc and notice the opportunities for “math moments” and more!

How do you explore your UOIs through the discipline of math?

What are your best approaches to inquiring into math within the context of a UOI?

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We tuned in!

Before our Units of Inquiry started, grade-level teams inquired into “tuning in” (with the help of  this post from Kath Murdoch). Many teachers walked away with a new, or deeper, understanding of the purpose behind the “tuning in” phase of inquiry. Teachers were excited to put their new learning into practice… here is how it turned out in our Grade 1 to 5 classes:

Grade 1: Peaceful relationships are created through mutual understanding and respect.

Students tuned in to problems and solutions:

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Students tuned in to the concept of numbers:

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Grade 2: Citizens build communities.

Students tuned in to the concepts of “community” and “citizenship”:

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Grade 3: Decisions impact conseqeunces.

Students tuned in to “decisions” and “consequences”:

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Students shared important decisions they made in their life:

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Students tuned in to decisions made by readers:

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Students tuned in to the decisions they make as mathematicians:

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Students tuned in to the number of decisions they make:

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Teachers tuned in to the type of decisions they make:

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Grade 4: Relationships are affected by learning about people’s perspectives and communicating our own. 

Students tuned in to the concepts of perspective and relationships:

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Students tuned in to different representations of numbers:

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Grade 5: Relationships among human body systems contribute to health and survival. 

Students (and teachers) tuned in to the concept of systems:

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Students tuned in to what they think they know about body systems:

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I love that the students’ thinking is front and centre!

I love that the students’ thinking is visible!

I love that students were able to demonstrate their thinking in a variety of ways!

I love that teachers tuned into conceptual understandings, not just topic knowledge! 

I love that transdisciplinarity is evident!

I love that teachers were acting as inquiries themselves… doing reconnaissance to find out about what their students bring to a Unit of Inquiry!

The feedback from teachers about “tuning in” has been great! Teachers are excited because they have learned about their students’ prior knowledge, their misconceptions, their interests and their questions. It has not only provided them with diagnostic assessment data, but also a road map that illuminates “where to next?” based on students’ needs and interests! I can’t wait to see where these inquires lead!

How do you “tune in” to your students’ thinking?

Transdisciplinarity. (It’s a word…I think)

Transdisciplinarity.

The Golden Goose of the PYP.

Every PYP teacher’s dream…

“Wouldn’t it be amazing to spend the whole day on our Unit of Inquiry”

“How great would it be to have no stand-alones?”

“I wish all my math and literacy was authentically integrated!”

This past year, our school adopted the Common Core State Standards for Literacy and Math and we have spent the year trying our best to integrate the standards into our PYP.

We survived… and we did a pretty darn good job!

Now, as we begin to wrap up this year and think about next year, our teachers were chomping at the bit to “transdisciplinary-ify” (that ones definitely not a word) our language and math standards further. So we used one of our half day PD sessions to inquire into transdisciplinary learning. 

First our staff did a growing definition to tune into what they thought transdisciplinary learning was all about.

3 minutes to write your own definition on a post-it:

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5 minutes to combine your definition with a partner onto a recipe card:

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10 minutes to construct a collective definition with your whole teaching team on a sheet of blank paper:

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After giving each team a chance to share, we looked at what they PYP says about transdisciplinary learning:

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We used this video as a provocation to get teachers thinking about the endless possibilities of transdisciplinary learning:

 

Then we unpacked 3 levels of transdisciplinary connections:

Level 1:
What concepts, knowledge or skills are essential in order to:
– understand the central idea
– inquire into the lines of inquiry
– complete the summative

Level 2:
What concepts, knowledge or skills can enhance

Level 3:
What concepts, knowledge or skills can be taught
within the context of your Unit of Inquiry?

Finally we gave teams the rest of the afternoon to look at the Common Core State Standards with fresh eyes, through the lens of transdisciplinarity.

The result was amazing! All of our teams ended the day with a more transdisciplinary math and literacy scope and sequence. Some teams even ended up with no stand-alones!

Hopefully these documents will help to guide our thinking more next year about how math and literacy can serve the units of inquiry. It will be interesting to come back and look at these documents at the end of next year and reflect on how we can refine them again to further enhance the opportunities for transdisciplinary learning.

As we often say to our students…once you’re done, you’ve just begun!