1 5373267246_40cf035309_b-400x300We’ve been using a new math curriculum in our district this year. While adopting (or piloting) a new curriculum of any kind can be overwhelming and take some time to build both student and teacher confidence, it has been very pleasing to see the way our students have taken to Bridges math.

Much like the Investigations math series we piloted and used for three years, Bridges has a very hands-on, collaborative approach. Students interact with math concepts through exploration, and they are expected to show their thinking and learning through words, pictures, numbers, and physical constructions. Nearly every session finds students working in pairs  and using manipulatives to build understanding.

Learning is a social thing and math learning is a prime example of this. When students explore together and explain their ideas and observations to one another, they are being forced to think more deeply. It isn’t always easy to explain to another person why a particular strategy will lead to success while another won’t. Talking about your learning, both in a small group and in front of the whole class, solidifies concepts and deepens understanding.

Math isn’t quiet or tidy in our classroom. There are manipulative pieces all over the place while we’re working, but they (mostly) find their way back to the kits by the time our session is over. I’ve had to relax a lot about making sure that each kit is perfectly stocked. The students are quite capable of borrowing centimeter cubes or pattern blocks from their neighbors if their own kit runs short. Once again, they are being asked to problem solve!

The photo that accompanies this post shows two “buildings” that our students worked on this week. We were exploring what happens to volume when you increase the dimensions of a construction by various factors. Many students initially guessed that doubling the dimensions would also double the volume. It made a lot of sense but, after building a structure that was twice as wide, twice as tall, and twice as deep, students realized that the number of cubes increased 2x2x2 times…the volume had increased 8 times! When we took the next step and increased the dimensions by a factor of 3, the growth in the required number of cubes was even more amazing…27 times more cubes were needed.

I could stand in front of the class and tell the students about these growth patterns, and a couple of kids might be able to walk away with at lease some idea what I was talking about. When students have the chance to build and explore and try and hit dead ends and recover so that they can try again, however, more of them walk away with understanding. They have grappled with the ideas individually and physically, while reinforcing their learning through discussion and collaboration. Whether we’re using Investigations or Bridges doesn’t matter a great deal as long as we are using our hands and eyes and mouths and ears and minds in the working and playing and learning of math.