How We Approach Math
It's an incredible opportunity for a child to own their learning – to learn how to make decisions and advocate for themselves.
Watch this video to see how Melissa Blanco blends small group instruction, one-on-one tutoring, and digital tools to help students learn to love Math.
Prefer reading to watching? Here is the transcript of the video:
When I learned about Khan Lab School, I learned about how student-centered it was here. That's what immediately drew me to it. I wanted to see a school where students had more control over their own learning.
What I love about teaching Math at KLS is that I get to answer each day, “What are the best things students and teachers should be doing to maximize learning and appreciation for Math? What are the best learning experiences I can offer my students?” And while these seem like questions any Math teacher should answer in any school, I feel that KLS dedicates the time and resources to explore these questions and see their answers happen in real life.
Math at KLS is mixed-age. Students are grouped by ability, and we utilize Khan Academy and other online tools for our self-paced program, which covers all of Common Core and meets the individual needs of our students. This blended learning is supplemented by small group instruction and one-on-one tutoring. Students are grouped based on academic ability five times per year. This means in as many ways and as often as possible, I meet the students where they are so they are appropriately challenged.
At KLS, we also support mastery-based learning. In order for a student to learn and advance through the curriculum, they need to show they've fully mastered target objectives, skills, and concepts. Mastery-based learning can happen at KLS because of our flexible schedule. Students move at their own pace and can schedule more or less time to work on certain goals. So if a student needs more time to really master content, they can take it and not have to worry about being forced to move on with the calendar. In the same way, a student may recognize they've mastered something earlier than expected. They can then take assessments early, show their understanding, and move on without being held back. Because students are asked to go really deep and master every assignment they complete and every test they take, they learn perseverance. They learn how to take their time. They learn about the different types of mistakes and how to avoid them. I think it's an incredible opportunity for a child to own their learning – to learn how to make these decisions and advocate for themselves.
I think for a lot of people (kids and adults) Math causes some level of stress. That's why in my class, one of my greatest goals is to make sure students enjoy doing Math – that they find it useful and interesting and creative; that they know that depth is more important than speed. So if you were to peek in on a Math small group on any given day, you might see students working together to solve problems, students using whiteboards to share their strategies with one another, students creating posters and displays to explain their thinking and practice talking about Math; students being pulled into even smaller groups to work on specific skills with a teacher. During a Math one-on-one, students work on their personal goals with some extra support and feedback from me. I may request tutoring with certain students I've identified who may need more practice in certain skills. In those one-on-ones, you might see students use manipulatives to develop their understanding, or I might give some direct instruction and tips to help that student become “unstuck.” Students, overall, benefit from one-on-one time because they're able to deepen their conceptual understanding and continue working towards mastery.
One of the best aspects of the Math program at KLS is that it changes based on student needs. Each term, the students and my team reflect on what's working, what we liked or didn't like, and what needs to be changed. I ask my students all the time, “What do you like about Math? What's your favorite activity that we've done so far? What do you think we should do differently next term?” And all of this feedback goes into how I approach each group. We're constantly iterating to ensure student learning is both personalized and balanced.
I feel super blessed because KLS kids love Math. They're so open to doing the work of mathematicians, whether that's rising to a challenge, or making mistakes, or exploring or proving. And I think we can attribute this love to all of the work that's been done here to build growth mindset and focus on enjoying and being aware of the process of learning. But what really stands out to me as what makes Math different here is that above all else, it's fun.
About Melissa Blanco, Lower School Math Specialist
Melissa helps students make giant leaps in learning by maximizing student engagement and ownership of the learning process. While earning her master’s degree in Elementary Education from the University of Florida, Melissa gained a keen interest in blended learning and technology. Her research into educational technology led her to complete a pilot internship with Florida Virtual School and become a counselor for UF’s Digital Kids Tech Camp. Upon graduating, Melissa returned to her hometown of Tampa, FL where she taught for seven years in Title 1 elementary schools.
Melissa began her career as a second grade teacher for predominantly low-income students, the majority of whom spoke English as a second language. She researched and incorporated alternative teaching methods, such as inductive teaching and project-based learning, to continually encourage critical thinking and discussion in the classroom. After two years, she transferred to Dunbar Elementary, an inner-city magnet school focused on medical and scientific exploration. Melissa taught second grade and gifted Math and Science before eventually becoming a fifth grade Math and Science instructor. In this role, Melissa challenged students to learn through engagement in authentic and open-ended problems they are likely to face in the future. This problem-based, student-centered approach to teaching and learning fostered 100% active participation and mastery of standards. Melissa also spent a year in the Philippines, where she had the opportunity to learn more about her heritage and assist in opening a school for children in rural Leyte. When Melissa isn't learning something new with students, she enjoys playing the ukulele, going on adventures, and winning at board games. She is most excited about collaborating with students in her day-to-day work.