Fifth graders are learning math through strategy and problem solving activities. It’s not just about getting the right answer.

“The idea that kids use strategies, and that there are multiple strategies — and they’re all legitimate — is new,” said Sheryl Wolfe, a third-grade teacher at Methow Valley Elementary School.   She is a math fellow with the regional Educational Service District.

Previously, math involved lots of formulas, algorithms, and rote memorization. “There was no opportunity for a mistake — just the right answer,” said Anne Andersen, the Methow Valley district’s director of teaching and learning. She said that students had little understanding of the steps or why they did them. They didn’t focus on the process of problem solving or the math strategy.

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“It’s a new way of thinking about math — there’s absolutely no stigma in getting it wrong. That’s seen as an opportunity to figure out a different way of doing it,” said Andersen.

Wolfe led her students in a lesson on arrays – rectangular grids of rows which each contain an equal number of squares.  Her class was working on a rectangle with four rows of six squares.

“Can anybody tell me how many squares there are, total?” Wolfe asked the class. Then she asked the students how they had come to their answer, which was the most important part of the lesson.

Some kids counted.  Some counted groups of squares and added squares in the last column.  Others split the grid, counted by sixes and doubled it.

“Is that OK?” asked Wolfe. “Can you break it apart? Is that a good strategy?”

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