Math Minds: A New Vision for K-6 Mathematics

5 min

Math teaching continues to be a focus of public debate. Fuelled by PISA scores and other international metrics, debates have only intensified with worries about pandemic learning loss, fraught efforts to move learning online, and differential access to technologies and classroom resources. The investment of millions of dollars in new educational resources and technologies has done little to close the gap between students. 

Traditionally, the burden of responsibility for effective math teaching has fallen on classroom teachers, charged with ensuring strong results – a duty that entails deep understandings of both math content and dynamics of learning. However, the subject matter is simply too intricate for teachers to be expected to be constantly aware of every nuance, and individual understandings are simply too personal and unpredictable for the teacher to manage every learner’s sense-making. At the same time, it has become evident that, with effective teaching, virtually every person can become mathematically adept. Is this a paradox?

According to Math Minds, it isn’t.

Math Minds is a 9-year collaboration amongst the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary, two school districts, and JUMP Math. The initiative was originated by Canadian Oil Sands and generously funded by Suncor Energy Foundation. The model that has emerged has been conceived as a profound partnership of teachers, mathematicians, logicians, resource developers, and educational researchers. They have collectively worked to structure lessons and refine resources that are mathematically robust, cognitively defensible, evidence-based, and broadly accessible.

Proven Pedagogy

The project’s first phase focused on developing a model of teaching that was attentive to both the complex structures of mathematics concepts and recent insights into mathematics learning within the cognitive sciences. Efforts began with identifying features of mathematics and principles of learning most critical to effective teaching, and culminated in working with teachers in their classrooms to knit those elements into an approach that supports steady improvements in learner performance.

The model has been proven to have a significant, year-over-year impact on student learning. The graphs below illustrate improvements in student performance across five years. The data indicate that the Math Minds approach contributes to improved mathematics performance including computational fluency, conceptual understanding and problem solving – with the largest improvements seen in problem solving and conceptual understanding.

CTBS Math Total, Grades 2-6, Growth statistically significant at p = 0.001. A Linear Mixed Model analysis was conducted on t-scores. Results are presented in NPR.

The Path to Effective Instruction

In phase two, the team worked with wider groups of teachers as it designed, tested, and refined an online, open-access, professional learning resource, structured as a 15-session “course”. Course participants from Canada and around the world already number in the thousands. 

This course has helped me to look at my own teaching practices and made me more aware of how I am teaching these critical discernments – the emphasis of realizing it’s not just about the steps, but how the thinking behind the steps is crucial.

Shaila, Grade 4 teacher

A Shared Vision for the Future

The University of Calgary together with its lead partner, JUMP Math, share a vision to ensure all students effectively learn math and love it. Math Minds seeks to equip educators with the strategies and resources to improve teaching and learning. More broadly, Math Minds believes that math has the potential to create a more equitable world. The research supporting Math Minds and JUMP Math resources shows that the approach produces better results for all students.  

If you’re interested in learning more about the evolution of the project, you may wish to explore the research team’s publications.