Curriculum, Opinion

A Framework for Teaching Math

Honouring the Balance in Ontario’s Curriculum

I was invited to submit a blog response to this question based on the recognition of Simcoe County’s Fieldcrest Elementary School as one of the 2014 Ken Spencer award winners.  We were recognized for our success in supporting student engagement, learning and achievement in mathematics using the Balanced Mathematics framework developed by SCDSB teacher Lee Sparling.

Balanced Math has contributed to the designation of Fieldcrest Elementary School as one of 11 “Promising Practices” schools in Ontario based on a consistent five-year growth in EQAO Mathematics scores. Its components include math journals, shared and independent problem-solving, guided math, math facts and math games.  This framework promotes consolidation of learning through the spiraling of concepts throughout the year and a blend of conceptual understanding and procedural fluency.5 6 It also encourages a Math Talk Learning Community through problem solving and math journals.

So what are the best ways to teach math? The best part about the question is the recognition that there are many ways to do so. In Simcoe County, we embrace the idea that teacher mathematics content knowledge, a blend of conceptual understanding and procedural fluency, and assessment-informed instruction are essential. 1 However, educators are encouraged to differentiate the instructional strategies used in order to be responsive to the needs of the learners in their classrooms. Furthermore, our Board Learning Plan (BLPSA) emphasizes the importance of making authentic connections between mathematics and other subject areas, such as the arts, science and social studies.  2 To support these beliefs, educators have voice and choice in their professional learning, which includes a variety of collaborative inquiries: 

  • Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching
  • Assessment in Mathematics
  • NumerARTSy
  • Balanced Mathematics
  • Effective Instruction in Mathematics Across the Middle Years
  • Mathematics and Special Education Co-Teaching
  • STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) – Integrated Learning
  • Leveraging Digital Tools for Deep Learning

The foundation for mathematics education in Simcoe County is based on three overarching goals detailed in our Math Action Plan: Inspire Positive Math Mindsets, Deepen our Focus, and Customize Support for each Student/School.  First and foremost, we recognize that student, educator and parent mindsets about learning and mathematics have a significant impact on achievement.3.  To support Positive Math Mindsets, we have collaborated with PERTS Lab at Stanford University to bring mindset learning to students and educators.4 To Deepen our Focus we are embedding Paying Attention to Mathematics Education monographs, assessment and the use of digital tools into our inquiries. Customizing Support for each Student/School is accomplished through responsive professional learning opportunities based on School Learning Plans (SLPSA-WB) and individual teacher and student needs that arise through assessment.

Balanced Mathematics is one example of an instructional framework from which we have experienced measured success. Of 232 Junior/Intermediate students surveyed, 73%reported that they “definitely” or “most times” feel more confident about problem solving, and 69% reported that they are better at communicating their math thinking. 

In No More Math Wars, Ansari suggests that effective mathematics education includes a combination of procedural and conceptual understanding: “all of the literature clearly suggests that both instructional approaches are tightly related to one another and are mutual determinants of successful math learning over time.”  Often mistakenly viewed as “discovery learning”, the Ontario Mathematics Curriculum is actually a blend of both. 7  The Balanced Mathematics framework honours this blend through a combination of problem-solving and math facts and games.

In Simcoe County, it has been our experience that instruction which includes a rich combination of problem-solving opportunities that challenge student thinking, delivered through a range of responsive practices, results in the greatest learning and achievement for our students.





[1] “Wintertickle PRESS – Balanced Mathematics – ClicShop.” 2012. 17 Oct. 2015 <http://www.teacheasy.net/c378000384_en/index.html>

[1] “Download Presentation – Association of Educational …” 2014. 17 Oct. 2015 <http://www.aero-aoce.org/uploads/6/6/0/0/6600183/aero_presentation_2013_suurtamm.pdf>

[1] “16903 LNS Effective Math Posters-SoftProof (R).” 2015. 17 Oct. 2015 <http://www.edugains.ca/mathposter.pdf>

[2] “SCDSB – Math Action Plan.” 2014. 17 Oct. 2015 <https://www.scdsb.on.ca/Programs/Assessment-and-Curriculum/Pages/Math-Action-Plan.aspx>

[3] “The Power of belief — mindset and success … – YouTube.” 2012. 17 Oct. 2015 <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pN34FNbOKXc>

[4] “PERTS: Raising Academic Achievement.” 2012. 17 Oct. 2015 <https://www.perts.net/>

[5] “Paying Attention to Math – EduGAINS.” 2014. 17 Oct. 2015 <http://www.edugains.ca/newsite/math/payingattentiontomath.html>

[6] “Math in Motion Issue #14 – EduGAINS.” 2015. 17 Oct. 2015 <http://www.edugains.ca/resources/SystemLeader/MathInMotion/MathinMotion_Issue12_October2015.pdf>

[7] “No More Math Wars | Canadian Education Association (CEA).” 2015. 17 Oct. 2015 <http://www.cea-ace.ca/education-canada/article/no-more-math-wars>

[8] “Math Talk Learning Community Research … – EduGAINS.” 2010. 17 Oct. 2015 <http://www.edugains.ca/resources/LeadingChange/KeyDirectionsandFrameworks/MathTalkLearningCommunityResearchSynopsis.pdf>

[9] “Download Presentation – Association of Educational …” 2014. 17 Oct. 2015 <http://www.aero-aoce.org/uploads/6/6/0/0/6600183/aero_presentation_2013_suurtamm.pdf>

Meet the Expert(s)

Kristen Muscat-Fennell

Kristen Muscat-Fennell is a Vice Principal and former Instructional Resource Teacher (Mathematics K-8) in the Simcoe County District School Board (SCDSB). She is a Teacher Learning and Leadership Project (TLLP) and Provincial Knowledge Exchange (PKE) Lead who has supported teachers to develop math programming that encourages deep and meaningful student learning and positive math mindsets based on SCDSB teacher Lee Sparling's Balanced Mathematics program.

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