In this monthly column, we speak with a notable member of the mathematics education community about their work and their perspectives on the teaching and learning of mathematics. This month, we had the pleasure of speaking with Jennifer Brokofsky.
Jennifer Brokofsky is the K-12 Coordinator of Mathematics for Saskatoon Public Schools. She is passionate about mathematics education, and believes in empowering students and teachers to feel ownership of, and become deeply engaged in their own learning. Her Masters work in Educational Technology and Design strongly influences her practice and her belief in the importance of technology as a tool to enhance and extend learning opportunities for all.
Thank you for taking the time to have this conversation! To start off, could you tell our readers a bit about the work that you do as Coordinator of Mathematics for the Saskatoon Public School Division?
As the Coordinator of Mathematics, my job is to support and advocate for mathematics within Saskatoon Public Schools. My work provides me with opportunities to be a researcher, learner, leader, designer, and collaborator. Some days, I facilitate professional learning opportunities for teachers or work in classrooms with students. Other days, I collaborate with school-based administrators and teachers on strategic plans for mathematics. Every day, I work closely with a fantastic Staff Development Team who have a wealth of expertise to share around mathematics, literacy, technology, First Nations and Métis education, English language learners, student supports, and leadership. I love that every day provides me with an opportunity to learn and to serve the many mathematicians within Saskatoon Public Schools.
One of my favorite parts of the job is working closely with the teachers who are a part of our Mathematics Leadership Communities. These communities of educators from Kindergarten to Grade 9 receive ongoing professional development in our division. Initially, the professional learning focused on strategies for instruction, assessment, and mathematics content. Over time, however, the communities have evolved to take on the roles of advisor, contributor, and co-leader in mathematics within our division. When I look back at the work we have collectively generated and shared with our division this past year around computational fluency, mathematics in Kindergarten, and mindset, I know that it would not be as widely received or relevant without the feedback, ideas, and leadership of these amazing teachers.
As you completed your Master of Education at the University of Saskatchewan in Educational Technology and Design, you must be intimately acquainted with the advantages, challenges, and complexities of teaching and learning with (digital) technology.
Ever since the introduction of pocket calculators, there has been pushback against the use of technology in the math classroom. What is, in your view, the role of technology in the teaching and learning of mathematics? And although they seem to multiply every week, what are some of the online tools and resources that you would recommend?
Technology in mathematics is often seen as either a calculator or an online game. This view limits the potential of technology within our classrooms.
Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR Model for Technology Integration encourages educators to think about using technology for purposes beyond substitution and augmentation. As mathematics teachers, we need to think about integrating technology in ways that not only enhance, but actually transform mathematics learning. Transformation has two steps in the SAMR model: Modification (significantly redesign a task) and Redefinition (create new tasks that were previously inconceivable).
Within our division, we are exploring a few different types of technology that have the potential to transform mathematics learning. For instance, our secondary teachers have engaged in several professional learning opportunities around use of Desmos, a free online graphing calculator and Activity Builder. Our elementary teachers are beginning to develop ways to connect robotics programing and mathematical concepts, a project showing tremendous promise. We also continue to promote the use of video creation as a way for students and teachers to communicate their mathematical thinking to others (see the following blog post for an example: https://jenniferbrokofsky.wordpress.com/category/three-act-math-videos/). In these ways, the technology is providing unique opportunities for students to explore and engage in mathematics that were not possible in the past. As we continue to develop the use of these types of technology in our classroom, we can harness their potential to redefine learn experiences for our students.
Outside of the classroom, you use technology, including Twitter and your blog, jenniferbrokofsky.wordpress.com, to reflect on teaching and learning, to share ideas and resources, and to communicate with colleagues around the world. The online math teacher community is certainly very strong and growing. How has social media contributed to your own professional growth? In your view, why are math teachers in particular so eager to connect and share online?
Social media has been a powerful tool for my own professional learning. Every time I connect with educators from around the world, I have an opportunity to expand my thinking, gather new ideas, and discover new research-based practices. Learning today is no longer limited by your geographical area; through social media, the world has gotten smaller, but the opportunities to learn from others have increased exponentially. For me, technology has been the biggest “game changer” to my professional learning. Not only does social media provide me with a new way to access information but it also provides me with opportunities for ongoing conversations with educators from around the world.
I have seen math teachers from around the world become very active on social media. I would like to attribute this to teachers modeling the same qualities of mathematicians that they hope to foster in their students.
Will (and should) blogs, Twitter, online conferences, and other social media ever replace in-person professional development?
No. Whereas I see the huge potential of all forms of digital learning, I also still see the benefit of learning side-by-side with colleagues in face-to-face situations. It is not about one platform for learning replacing the other—it is more about acknowledging the value that each can have in professional learning and finding ways for the two to work together. It is also about educators identifying the best fit, moment-to-moment, for their own professional learning and then having the opportunity to tap into the platform that works for them. Ultimately, I think that face-to-face learning in partnership with online learning has the greatest potential to impact mathematics education.
On your blog, in addition to sharing strategies to support children’s learning of mathematics in the classroom, you have also discussed ways to support their learning and appreciation for mathematics at home. What are some key tips that you share with parents who are looking to do so?
This question is complex, as so much of it depends on the child and what their interests and needs are. There simply is no one-size-fits-all response. However, I do often tend to make three recommendations to parents:
- Play—Find games that you can play with your child that invite them to use math. Common games involve cards and dice that require computation, but be on the lookout for opportunities to use math in other ways, too. Games that require logical reasoning and problem solving are also mathematical, and can help your child see math as more than just computation. (See my article “Building on Mathematical Thinking Through Play” in the July 2016 edition of The Variable for a few of my favorites.)
- Talk—Find ways to talk about mathematics as it exists in your world. Look for examples of math in grocery stores, as you are driving in the car, on television, and in your kitchen. If you find yourself using or seeing math, share that with your child and start a conversation. These conversations can help them see that math is alive in our world and is useful.
- Value—If you value mathematics, so will your child. Share with your child that math is a valuable and important subject for them to learn and that you will support them along their learning journey.
In wrapping up this interview, perhaps you can give our readers some homework. As a coordinator of mathematics and a longtime classroom teacher, you must be familiar with the (overwhelming number of!) resources that are available for mathematics teachers at both the elementary and secondary level. Could you share a few of your favorite resources with our readers who are looking to grow in their practice? What’s currently on your professional reading list?
I am constantly reading and exploring ideas to support mathematics instruction. As a lifelong learner, it is a passion of mine to embrace new opportunities to learn from some of the leading thinkers in this area. My current favorite resources include the following:
This book is probably the single most impactful book I have read in a long time. Hammond skillfully connects brain-based research with cultural understanding and ideas for engaging our students in culturally responsive ways. Although it is not specifically focused on mathematics, the opportunities to connect the research and ideas to mathematics are plentiful. I would recommend this book to all teachers.
I strongly believe in giving students a voice in our mathematics classrooms. As members of our community of mathematicians, their thinking and ideas need to be shared with others in ways that can generate conversation. The ideas in this book provide starting places for such conversations for students in Grades K to 8. I am also looking forward to the new book focusing on fractions and decimals, which should be available shortly.
Jo Boaler is my math hero! Her ongoing work on mathematical mindsets is inspirational. As educators, we need to accept the challenge of not only teaching our students the curriculum, but also to believe in themselves as mathematicians. All students can do mathematics—the challenge is to help them believe that they can, and then to support them in their learning. Like Zaretta Hammond’s book, I would recommend this book to all teachers.
Thank you, Jennifer, for taking the time to share your expertise and perspectives with our readers. We look forward to continuing the discussion in the future.