How can I make math my strength

Children and young people inspire with creativity and high performance in math

Leistungs-macht-Schule.de: Ms. Mehring, what are you hoping for from your project work for “Achievement makes school”?

For my students, I hope that they will get a different perspective on mathematics, develop pleasure in performance and show outstanding performance outside of the traditional teaching content. For my school, I hope that the latest scientific findings will give us new ideas for everyday teaching.

Why is there still potential in maths to find and promote high performers?

In the everyday school life of many colleagues, recognizing and promoting high-performing students are not central components of the work. In the past, this was a little neglected due to the intensive support of those who were less able to perform. That is why we want to focus on the children and young people who have special potential in math so that they can shine too.

To do this, we have to take a closer look and recognize the signs of performance. Schools definitely have some catching up to do in this regard. As a Montessori school, we focus on the individual development of children and young people, but we could also go further.

Why did you advocate taking part in this “performance makes school” project?

Because during my studies with Professor Käpnick, the project manager, I worked on the “Math for Little Aces” funding program. During this time I developed a great interest in mathematically high-performing students with their respective backgrounds and stories. I am from open tasks convinced because children and young people can show what they can do with it. The best thing about it is that you discover and use your own potential.

When the advertisement for “Achievement Makes School” was published, it was immediately clear to me that we should apply for it. The three of us, our headmistress, our talent coordination teacher and I, wrote the application and even drove it to Cologne in our private car to submit it on time. It was a tremendous sense of achievement for us when the acceptance came.

As a Montessori school, it is important to you and your staff to encourage children and young people individually, according to their special interests and at their own pace. What else can you learn from the initiative?

You can and should always learn - as a teacher and also as a school! That is why some time ago we developed a modular concept in the subject of mathematics for the lower grades, which takes up the Montessori pedagogy even more strongly: Every student can learn with the help of modules independently, at their own pace and at the preferred level of difficulty. However, this means that some children are already finished with a module after a few weeks and want to write the class test - and others not. So we teachers have to be pretty flexible. If someone is good and quick with us, he or she can either work on subsequent topics from the next school year or choose a topic that he or she enjoys. Together with Timo, one of my students (see interview below), we decided, for example, that he would deal with the optical illusion that interests him so much.

The building block concept has meanwhile proven itself. And how are innovations implemented through “performance goes to school”?

For our project we have further developed one of our math modules as a “research lesson”. Because we want to stick to the system that makes sense for our type of school and still try something new. In addition, we would like to permanently integrate our developments through “performance goes to school”. So it shouldn't be a format that just ends when the project expires.

And what exactly do you do differently in your research hours?

We can now increasingly bring open problem tasks into the classroom. We had puzzles in our building blocks before, but they were closed. The open, substantial problem tasks that we are now using in the project are extremely exciting for me because my students suddenly show completely different achievements with them. If you look towards the diagnosis of performance potential, these hours are incredibly important. The often creative solutions give me a completely new perspective on the children.

How would you describe one of your research sessions?

We start with a plenary phase in which the topic is introduced. Then the children work independently, in a framework of their own choosing: with classmates who like them and in a place where they feel comfortable. After all groups have returned, we present the different results in the plenary and the children enjoy the “oohs” and “aahs” of the others. They also keep a researcher's diary so that their knowledge and solutions are compactly documented. It's a real diary. In the way the kids run it, it reflects the people behind it and their personal progress.

And how do the children react to it?

The great thing is that EVERYONE is really motivated and working. It is important to us that the students just get started and work on the topics, even if the way is not yet perfect. Often they revisit problems in their research diary afterwards or document them differently. Your diary really grows dear to your heart.

We are also very happy about situations in which children and adolescents who do not yet speak our language very well achieve special achievements. Of course, in mathematics - apart from classic word problems - not so much language is required and this gives the students completely different leeway. But with the open tasks and the researcher diary, everyone can find their own access.

You and your colleagues have already met with the scientists from the University of Münster. What did you talk about and how did it affect you?

Professor Käpnick and his colleague Lea Schreiber have already visited us twice. We offered them to sit in on our classes. The two of them quickly realized what we were doing and where there was still potential for development. Professor Käpnick said: “I miss the true mathematics here, the playful, the creative; In principle, the open approach to mathematics. ”This was followed by a very open exchange and we introduced, among other things, the research hours.

Our second meeting was primarily about getting our colleagues on board. We got in with a puzzle from an Australian mathematician. That was incredibly exciting because we reacted just like the children. As teachers, we often don't even have a clue. Everyone was there with great enthusiasm and the shining eyes could not be overlooked. On this day, we, the teachers, surprised Professor Käpnick with our research diary and discussed what we need as a school and what we, math teachers, need.

What can researchers learn by working with your school?

You can take away a lot of everyday experience from us, especially with regard to the heterogeneity of the classes and the promotion of high-performing and under-performing children. By the way, for me they belong together. Whether I have students with special needs or with a special talent in front of me, both require a special form of support from me. And the researchers at our school can learn a lot about how to live this inclusion in two directions.

Ms. Mehring, what do you personally like about mathematics?

The math is just honest! No matter what area I go into in this science, I find clear evidence everywhere. I can rediscover things, but still trace them back to clear laws. In Aachen Cathedral, I looked at the mosaics with Professor Käpnick under the aspect of mathematical patterns and structures. By the way, religion is my second subject. One is knowledge, the other is belief. I think that goes well together.

And what are you most excited about in class?

When pupils are happy about themselves, for example with an “aha experience”. These are great moments of happiness. It also fulfills me when I can take it away from children who have developed a fear of mathematics and they can enjoy mathematics again.

Four questions for Timo (10 years)

1. Timo, you are really good at maths. What is it about the subject that inspires you?

It's my favorite subject because I can use it for anything. Otherwise you could never build anything or add up a price. I've also set myself a lot of goals that I need math for: I want to be an engineer. If that doesn't work, architect or roofer.

As an engineer, I have already planned a watch with a hologram screen in my mind. You could use many functions on it and change a lot, but also still see the time and a correct picture. And I want to invent a car that has a battery that never runs out, so that you also protect nature a lot more.

2. If another child asked you what you were doing in the research lessons with Ms. Mehring, what would you tell?

I would say: research hours are hours in which we are given puzzles and tasks that we cannot solve at first glance. We try and try several ways to find out. Above all, the children who enjoy puzzles have fun. I belong to that. We also help each other at the table. Sometimes it takes an effort to help. But actually I think that's very good and I want to learn to help very well.

3. Is there anything that you are not so good at?

In English. Sometimes I have my difficulties there. And in German. But I'm starting to get the curve. I just kept going and after a while I came to the spelling researchers, a support group in German. That helps me a lot too.

4. And what do you like when you are out of school?

I like football. Because I run really fast in defense and can really work out. And big ones "bolt away", I think that's great too.

Anna Maria Mehring

Born in Aachen, Anna Maria Mehring studied religion and mathematics in Münster for teaching at primary, secondary and secondary schools. After her legal clerkship, she worked at a municipal elementary school for a year and a half before moving to the Maria Montessori Comprehensive School in Aachen. To do this, she completed a Montessori certificate course, which relates specifically to lower secondary level. During her parental leave with twins (she is the mother of three children), an encounter with her former professor Friedhelm Käpnick brought her back on the path of talent promotion: while she was working, she obtained the ECHA diploma at the International Center for Talent Research in Münster. At her school, Anna Maria Mehring works according to the motto: “Whoever strengthens strengths weakens weaknesses and makes them happy” (based on Joëlle Huser).