In response to @Kwith64 and “teaching without words”

Human beings make sense of new ideas by making them fit with what they ‘know’ already, but moving beyond existing mental models is a fundamental prerequisite to knowledge construction and new learning.

~ Katz & Earl

Early in the week I read a posting from @Kwith64 on the topic of teaching without words, a look at teaching math through spacial and temporal (ST) means.  Matthew Petersen, chief technical officer and senior scientist at the MIND Research Institute, describes the method as follows:

ST Math is an interactive approach to teaching math that focuses on spatial-temporal representations of mathematical ideas over language-based representations. Students move through the mathematics content by solving visual puzzles and challenging multi-step thinking problems. It typically starts off without any words, but brings words and symbols into the mix as students gain understanding of the raw concepts.


In essence, ST Math does not focus on the need to teach math basics as a prerequisite to investigating math relationships and recognizes that some problems might not be easily explained or described in words.  Some math problems may instead require sophisticated visualizations to even begin to attempt the work.

The question @Kwith64 asks is, “will this help our sts [students] with an LD [learning disability]?”

In short.  Yes.

However I want to elaborate on this response and explain that the potential benefits need not be limited to our students with an LD.

Based on my initial reading of ST math, I believe the principles that drive it are similar to the responsive nature of math inquiry being advanced by our Ministry of Education and School Board. A pedagogy that allows students multiple access points into the math content and promotes the idea of having students work from their strengths. This is done through the use of problematic contexts and mathematical modelling, which help to generate purposeful talk within a classroom learning community.

Mathematics, in an inquiry context, can then be described as, “…not a careful march down a well-cleared highway, but a journey into a strange wilderness, where the explorers often get lost” (W.S. Anglin).  A journey, I might add, which forever changes the explorer; leaving them with a deep and intimate understanding of the landscape they traversed.

In this sense, an inquiry math classroom is responsive in nature.  It values students’ and teachers’ personal models but endeavors to broaden these existing ideas by introducing perhaps more rigorous and complex math models, in context and over time.  Adopting an inquiry framework in the classroom that encourages students to integrate strengths from all points of their life and later looks to link this learning to other areas in need of skill building, has the potential to benefit all of our students.

Thank you to @Kwith64, @bharrisonp, @holmeslainie, and @JonathanLWai.  Your twitter and blog posts helped to refine my thinking for this response.

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