An Interview with Matthew Oldridge

 

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Matthew Oldridge is an Effective Mathematics Resource Teacher with the Peel District School Board.  If you ever get involved with other Ontario Educators in conversation on Twitter, you’ve undoubtedly interacted with Matthew.  This interview lets me dig a little deeper to find out about the man behind the tweets.

Doug:  Other than Twitter, we’ve never met, correct?  Do you remember how and why we crossed paths on Social Media?

Matthew: I believe you dropped in the room when I made my BIT14 debut, but we have never met. I watched @MathletePearce right before, and his audience spilled out into the hall. I couldn’t get in the room! I was so surprised how many people came to see me, right after, in the room next door. It was one of those things- “oh, they’re really here for me!”
I think at some point I was pulled into your Follow Fridays. You always feel like a star, when that happens. So that was maybe our first social media contact.

Doug:  Learning from Kyle was a wise move. The guy knows math! Your current job descriptor is “Effective Mathematics Resource Teacher”.  I’m curious – does “Effective” refer to Mathematics or Teacher?  What grade levels?

Matthew: My big joke, that nobody laughs at, I say, “we’re effective mathematics resource teachers. There’s no ineffective ones, we fired them all, they were too ineffective”. Not really funny.

I think probably helping teachers to find the most effective practices for their own mathematics classrooms. It’s always tempting to say “best practices”, but the truth is a bit more complex-what is best for me, might not be best for the teacher down the hall.

That said, we have done a lot of work with our whole board promoting things like rich tasks. How do you use them? What’s rich? Do you use them every day? Those are very broad effective practices.

Doug:  It’s most certainly a timely need in Ontario.  Do you work with a team serving the needs of Peel teachers?  How would a classroom teacher be best served by you?

Matthew: We have a team of 5. At times we get to go to classrooms. I am excited to work with some grade 9 and 10 applied teachers this year. Likewise, I visited a few grade one classrooms last year- mindblowing.

One of our big areas is figuring out what the Renewed Math Strategy looks like in Peel. The Ministry is quite clear it is to be different, board to board, depending on needs, so we are working on figuring out how to give the best and most differentiated support.

Doug:  I was curious about your qualifications and so did some background research from the College of Teachers website.  Your basic degree is in the Arts.  Did that include Mathematics?

Matthew: My story is I took a literature degree. Don’t regret it- habits of mind, critical thinking, and particularly reading and writing skills from it have served me so well. I took first year Calculus and did great! But math or science wasn’t my path then. That came later. In elementary we often get assigned a “mixed bag” to teach, often including things like drama and dance! So specializing, and really, really putting the work into learning about math instruction was what I chose. A Master’s of Ed with a focus on math assessment from Western helped!

Doug:  So, how does a classroom teacher have the desire to move to the coaching of Mathematics?

Matthew: Fall seven times, stand up eight. I knew I wanted to be an instructional leader, so I kept trying for those jobs. I tried for math, I tried for technology. My interview skills were a bit lacking. Finally, when this math role came up, I was just “ready”. When you are ready, and prepared, good things happen…

Doug:  There’s some great advice for everyone! We all read about the status of the results from EQAO Assessment of Mathematics.  Is that the standard that we need for comparison?

Matthew: Some of our colleagues play it up, as a huge cause for concern, while some minimize it. I do think “something is happening”. Everyone has different theories about what it is!

I am not alarmist though- great things are happening in Ontario. The polarized “us vs. them” media debate doesn’t help teachers though.

I would say, above all, each teacher needs to pay attention to the thinking of the students in front of them. That matters more than test scores. Teach math in an interesting way, let kids talk, and give enough time to practice, and the rest should follow!

Doug:  With all school districts expressing concerns about scores and seeking ways to improve, are they all pulling in the same direction?

Matthew: I feel that for the most part we are. We have all the progressive Ministry messages telling us to “carry on”. I am progressive to the bone, but I have a hunch lots of kids need just that little bit more practice with concepts and skills. I think it’s a misunderstanding that we can just teach through big rich tasks every single day.

Doug:  How do you answer those who wish for a return to the good old days of memorization as the way to best learn Mathematics?

Matthew: There were no good old days! 1957! Sputnik! The Soviets are going to space first! “New” math followed….

I outlined my concern that we need enough time to practice. That said, pure memorization is not the best way to do it- fluency games, number talks, we have lots of interesting ways to do it. I just “see” multiplication facts in my head. You say 8×8, 64 appears. I don’t see it, I guess, the number is just there. I know I used flash cards. That served me fine. But making sense of the numbers came later, and really, it could have happened at roughly the same time.

Doug:  You don’t know how strongly I agree with the concept of practice. Next, how do you answer the question “When will I ever use this?”.  Interestingly, it could be asked of any subject area – it’s just overly asked with respect to Mathematics.

Matthew: It is. We have to face up to the fact that things like quadratics are irrelevant to most peoples’ lives. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t teach it though. The beauty of math is that we can do anything with it- we can create elaborate things in the mathematical world, in our minds. They don’t even HAVE to exist in the real world (an n-dimensional sphere, for example). So my big thing now is this: math is interesting on its own! Yes, we need real world applications when we can, but the mathematical world is so interesting!

Doug:  You take your discussions online with #EngageMath. #Peelmathchat.  Do you have the traditional Twitter chat with these hashtags or do you use it to curate mathematics resources and connections?

Matthew: There is a monthly #Peelmathchat, with myself, and @RaspberryBeret3. It is well established, and has had a huge range of topics. #EngageMath is the official sharing from classrooms in the board. It’s really taken off- we should all be proud of that. There is amazing student thinking being shared every day!

I attempt to curate, and amplify by retweeting. I would suspect that many more people read than post, so hopefully they are getting inspired just by watching!

Doug:  I think that’s a good thing. By curating the best ideas, you allow people to just learn from your efforts. How do you see Mathematics and Coding intersecting?

Matthew: In work I have done, we have focused on computational thinking as the basis for connecting math to coding. Geometry, yes, is a huge and obvious content area connection. But, forcing coding into math content areas is doing it a disservice. I like the connection between thinking in math, and thinking through code. Where do they intersect?  How are these thinking skills alike?

Doug:  You have two children.  How are they doing in Mathematics?

Matthew: Well Callum is in grade 1. He is good with number facts. He once said, “infinity times infinity is infinity”. He was just repeating that from me though. He is curious, as is Alec, the younger one, and that’s what matters!

Doug:  We all certainly live in a world where technology has such an important impact.  For teachers and parents alike, what would you identify as “must have Mathematics apps/tools”?

Matthew: That is always a moving target. Desmos for sure for middle and high school. It is so easy to graph now. Something like Geometer’s Sketchpad or GeoGebra. Other than that, exploring channels like Numberphile on YouTube, or reading Wikipedia or Wolfram articles helps!

Also, there are so so many number skills apps for kids. You can make arithmetic fun. My kids have tried a few, like TodoMath.

Doug:  Your involvement in education goes far beyond Mathematics.  Tell us about #peel21st.

Matthew: I have done a lot of work on iPads in the math classsroom, and once was on CTV with kids using Minecraft in math. For me, when kids were allowed to bring their own devices, I let them be “on”, most of the time. I needed to know what it was like!

For me, #Peel21st is about more than technology- innovative and creative mindsets, people sharing new and amazing teaching ideas. Also, our technology resource teachers in Peel are amazing!

Doug:  You share your thinking publicly via blogs on Blogger and Medium (links below).  How do you decide which one to use for a post?

Matthew: I use Blogger for math specific content, those big heavy pedagogical posts. I like medium for broader things, like when I write about creativity, for example.

Doug:  In Ontario, who would you consider your biggest influencers and would encourage others to follow as well?

Matthew: In Peel, we have a guy named @MrSoClassroom that has inspired many many people as an amazing math teacher. @MrAspinall got me into coding. @tina_zita is always there to talk tech, and ed futures, and to push back on my thinking.

But I love when I find new teachers out there. New, interesting follows. People who share interesting thoughts, ideas, and student work.

Doug:  On the horizon, you’ll be speaking at the TedxChathamKent event.  http://tedxchathamkent.com/  Can you give us an advance thought or two about your talk?

Matthew: Math Classrooms Should Be Places of Surprise and Wonder. I want to do for Canadian math ed what Dan Meyer did for American.🙂 Well, really, my more modest goal is to get teachers excited and inspired about how interesting, creative, and wonderful math classrooms can be!

Doug:  Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us.  It’s appreciated and it’s always nice to know a bit more behind the social media persona.

Make sure that you follow Matthew on Twitter at https://twitter.com/matthewoldridge

As noted above, Matthew blogs at https://matthewoldridge.blogspot.ca/ and https://medium.com/@MatthewOldridge.

You can check out all of the interviews from this blog here.

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