Thoughts on Teaching Math: Part 1 – JUMP Math

Five years ago I was commuting to work and I heard John Mighton interviewed on CBC about the JUMP Math program he has just started and his new book “The Myth of Ability“.  Essentially he described how he had created a system for teaching math that was astoundingly successful at turning weak Math students into confident Mathematicians.   His success hinged on the fact that he did not treat his students like remedial math students, in fact he found ways to help them do math above their grade level using carefully scaffolded sets of instructions.  I found his approach refreshing because at the time I was struggling to get my grade 6 and 7 students to “construct” their own understanding of the math, and was constantly having to “fix” their misunderstandings.

So I ordered his books and materials and I started using them with my struggling Math students. Admittedly I never really managed to find the time to read his teacher guides and often used the worksheets are standalone work, but even so I found that they gave my struggling mathematicians confidence and allowed them to learn the same material as the rest of the class, but in a more structured way.  My challenge was trying to manage the JUMP materials and my regular textbook materials at the same time. It was rather an organisational challenge.

Last week I finally had an opportunity to attend a JUMP math training and I found it very inspirational.  I came away from the training realising that the JUMP math program is really the ideas in the teacher guides and the excellent worksheets are more of a practice and assessment piece.  We watched a video interview with John Mighton that I found very enlightening (I think they should put it on You Tube).  In the video he talked about the three beliefs that guide the JUMP math program:

  1. The teacher must be able to do a continuous assessment.  This is where the worksheets come in, they provide a way to continually assess where each student is.  He addressed the age old issue of what to do with the students that finish early; the JUMP program includes lots of extra extension questions that don’t teach new material but extend the same material.  This way it is easy for the teacher to extend the students that a looking for a challenge and also have the time to support the students going slower.  He also talked about how this system often encouraged the weaker students to try harder so that they could get to the more challenging questions.  Intrinsic motivation!
  2. The ideas need to be scaffolded so that kids can discover the ideas.  This was a departure from what I thought I understood about the JUMP program.  Initially I thought their approach was very much about teaching the rules (a misconception I probably acquired from using their introductory fractions unit without reading the teacher’s guide; this unit was meant to be a confidence builder not an actual fraction operations unit).   Instead I find that they have very carefully considered how to scaffold the discovery of new ideas so that students don’t end up frustrated because we ask them to make leaps that are far too big.
  3. We need strategies for engaging kids.  The JUMP program does this by always keeping kids at the edge of what they can do.  The contention is that when students realise they CAN do math that is above grade level (by having the steps carefully scaffolded for them) they start to become much more interested in the subject.  The quote I liked is “expertise develops through practice.  The question is, how do you make practice interesting”

The rest of the workshop was fascinating and I would highly recommend it to anyone.  This is a program developed by a team of people that are committed to really making a difference in Math Education.  To this end all their teacher guides and resources are available as free pdfs on their website  The workbooks cost money, but they are very affordable and are printed on recycled paper using environmentally friendly ink.  This is not an organisation out to make money, they are out to make a difference.

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