It’s been a challenging year for teachers and students. They have been asked to pivot, sometimes from one week to the next, often with little warning, to new classroom structures and learning situations. In virtual settings or in classrooms with social distancing, teachers find that many of the moves they rely on—something as simple as kneeling next to a student to discuss their work—are not possible, and so they search for another way. At the same time, the headlines scream at them about “learning loss” or “the Covid slide,” citing—often with little evidence—that “months” of learning will be “lost.”
These dire predictions, and the anxiety they can trigger, have caused some to turn away from curriculum that emphasizes deep, rigorous mathematics, sense-making, and honoring student ideas—they assume that this kind of work can’t be done under current circumstances. Some have turned to activities that focus on memorizing and reproducing procedures and facts, others to disconnected computer-based games and online activities that don’t provide for the careful development of ideas. Some suggest it isn’t possible to implement a rigorous, focused core curriculum like Investigations in environments where students are fully or partially remote.
In the past months, the Investigations team has been able to “sit in” on virtual Investigations classrooms. And we have seen the same kind of reflective teaching and engaged learning that we expect in “normal” times, without a sacrifice of the quality and coherence of the mathematics content. We have noticed that:
- students are engaged by and working deeply on content
- students are having mathematical ideas and building on each other’s ideas
- teachers are not lowering their expectations for student learning
- the curriculum is providing support and structure for coherence and rigor
Starting today, we’ll be sharing some of what we’ve observed in a series of blogs. They all provide examples of how teachers are using Investigations as the basis for their core instruction in an online environment. (See Blog 1, Blog 2, and Blog 3 of this series.)
Will these classes be able to “cover” all of the mathematics content they would in a usual year? That’s unlikely. Teachers report having less time to devote to mathematics, and in the time they do have, they are moving through content more slowly in the online environment. We are not downplaying the challenges facing teachers and schools next year. There will be content that will require particular attention, and teachers will also be concerned with students’ social and emotional needs after months away from the usual classroom structures. What we hope to highlight in this series of blogs is that deep and important learning is occurring online, and that teachers are working unbelievably hard to support this learning. We believe that knowing how to dig deeply into the mathematics and how to formulate and express mathematical ideas is what will best enable students to make sense of unfinished content when they encounter it. This is the learning that will not be lost.