Curriculum, Crosswalks & Correlations
Designed as supplemental and replacement units Contexts for Learning Mathematics can enhance your existing math curriculum.
Using Contexts for Learning Mathematics with Your Curriculum
Contexts for Learning Mathematics was not designed as a stand-alone curriculum. Although more units may be developed in the future, currently the series does not include a comprehensive treatment of the full scope of mathematics topics in grades K–6. The units should therefore be seen as either supplemental materials or as replacement units when working on the related topics. No matter what curriculum you are currently using, the Contexts materials can be helpful. For details of their use with specific programs, see www.contextsforlearning.com.
If you are currently using a basal program that provides practice sheets for procedures you explain first, you may find that initially the use of the Contexts materials presents some hurdles. These are very important, beneficial hurdles, but be prepared. Your students will need to develop a trust that their thinking matters; that they will be asked to present, discuss, and justify their ideas; that because you value thinking you will not explain what to do up-front; and that it is their job to convince others they are right rather than your job to acknowledge correct answers. Of course, this approach only prepares them for the real world of doing mathematics!
If you have been wanting to try a more problem-centered approach, these materials may be helpful as a bridge, providing you with specific problems, tips, and resources to begin. Even if you and your students find it difficult at first, stick with it. Consistency is important: once your students trust that you value mathematical thinking, it will be hard to stop them. In fact, one teacher commented that after using the Contexts materials she found it difficult to go back to the use of the basal workbooks!
Other materials on the market (such as Investigations in Space, Number, and Data and Everyday Math, among others) are conceptually based (in contrast to emphasizing procedures) and use a workshop model. With these materials Contexts for Learning Mathematics may be an easier fit. You will still find differences, however, particularly with how context and models are used to ensure development along the landscape of learning. Everyday Mathematics uses a spiraling model of curriculum development, rarely allowing children to examine a topic deeply since it is assumed that the topic will be revisited at a later date. Investigations often relies on a skilled teacher to facilitate discussions powerful enough to ensure learning. Neither employs the didactic use of context that the Freudenthal Institute is known for and that is a hallmark of Contexts for Learning Mathematics. Also, although a repertoire of strategies for computation is one of the perceived goals of these curricula, you will probably find that supplemental materials for mental arithmetic will be not only helpful, but necessary. Contexts for Learning Mathematics (particularly the resource guides) can provide the needed supplementing. Finally, the treatment of the algebra strand is different. Contexts for Learning makes use of the open number line to examine equivalence, building on our work on numeracy. Children are supported to examine equations and separate off equivalent expressions. They learn to treat expressions as objects, rather than only as procedures, thereby eliminating hurdles that often occur when students begin formal algebra courses in later years.
No matter what curriculum you are using, Contexts for Learning Mathematics can provide your students with more genuine opportunities to be young mathematicians at work. The problems they are asked to investigate are rich, opening possibilities to pursue many mathematical inquiries. The tips throughout will help you facilitate powerful conferences and whole-class discussions, and the landscapes of learning will provide invaluable assistance in assessing, documenting, monitoring, and celebrating your young mathematicians' accomplishments.