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Math-A Day in the Life of a Sixth Grader

March 3, 2021 | Melissa McCallihan

This first image is how we start every math class: together, online and in the classroom. Instruction usually begins with a mini lesson or a reteaching moment. Currently the sixth grade is interpreting algebraic expressions. The format and the topic is relatively new for them. Phrases that include “evaluate” and “combine like terms” are defined and repeated often so that they become commonplace in our discussions.

Then we move on to practicing problems students will see within the assignment. Mathspace provides online whiteboard tools to aid in instruction that students and teachers can use. We bring to mind old skills (converting percents to decimals) and new skills to solve problems.

Students then move on to work the problems of the lesson, while some stay online to work together. Students share their screen with the group to puzzle through problems and enjoy the opportunity to work collaboratively. Sometimes you just need to verbally process a problem. It’s amazing to me how much clearer a problem is when you read it aloud to someone. Often students will state that they just don’t understand, or this problem doesn’t make sense, and then begin reading it to the smaller group and part way through exclaim, “ohhhhhh I see where I made a mistake.”

Students are using an ancillary program called Waypoints as a check in each day. The program, developed by Mathspace. Waypoints is a continuous assessment platform that allows each student to follow their own math practice and growth path. Students solved many diagnostic problems as a way for the program to find holes in their learning as well as continue to enhance their study of mathematics.

Once the diagnostics are complete, students sign in and choose a focus for their questions that day. Students complete five questions each day. There is also a mindfulness aspect to the program’s learning goals. Each time they use the program they are prompted to say an “I can” statement. Having an optimistic and positive mindset for mathematics is so important. “Students with a growth mindset are those who keep going even when work is hard, and who are persistent. [resource]”

Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, has a quote I love regarding anything that is hard to do:”The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”

Solving a good, hard problem feels like you’ve really accomplished something. Gaining new understanding of how to solve problems is an accomplishment. Sixth graders bravely approach new problems everyday and do so with grit and determination. This is the foundation of a day in the life of a sixth grade math student.



Melissa McCallihan

Teacher, Grade 6; Science Grades 6-8

Teaching children to take risks and fail well is important to Melissa McCallihan, who has taught for over 30 years. She believes children learn as much through their failures as they do through their successes. She celebrates both in her classroom. In collaboration with the middle school director, art teacher, and other fourth and fifth grade teachers, Mrs. McCallihan has been instrumental in developing the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) program, an extension of the Lower School’s Shared Space model. “STEAM is where students solve problems and sometimes get it wrong,” says Mrs. McCallihan when asked about risks and failing well. “Students need to learn how to do that with grace, and to try again with grit and determination.” Mrs. McCallihan currently teaches sixth through eighth grade science.

Mrs. McCallihan cares deeply about relationships with her colleagues, students, and families. She works hard to make and maintain connections on a personal and professional level. And follows the mantra “Worship God, Love All.”

When not at school, you can find Mrs. McCallihan searching out a fantastic restaurant or hidden sight to see in New York City.

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