A million challenges, a million ways to learn …

The children in the early morning maths group wake up early. Really early. Some of them catch a bus at 6.45am to be at school in time for our sessions.

Initially, it’s a struggle to convince their parents (and the children) to give it a go.

  • Some of them feel insulted that they are invited to the group.
  • Some feel they don’t need the input.
  • Some know that it is going to be really difficult to have such a long day.
  • Some are grateful and excited to be included.

Children are carefully chosen. We need to consider where they are in their learning … In themselves. We ask many questions, analyse interviews, talk to teachers, parents, children. We consider what the needs of each child are and if the group can cater to them.

Sometimes, we choose children that find the mornings too difficult and this impacts on them in other ways. For these children, the program is counter-productive.

For others, it is beneficial. We know this because:

  • We conduct a pre and post interview
  • We listen, observe, communicate
  • We are in regular contact with their parents who talk about the connections, confidence that they see developing in their child
  • As a team, we reflect, ask questions and share
  • Class teachers feed back to us
  • After the program we survey the families.

What do we notice?

  • Children start to make connections between all areas of maths
  • They are more willing to take risks, make mistakes, self-correct and peer correct
  • They consider options in the way in which they solve problems
  • Their confidence grows – not only in maths
  • If we select “the right children”, the thinking and learning from the intensive sessions are long-lasting.

I start my session today getting children to look at patterns. They talk about skip counting, predicting future occurrences, organisation of shapes … They find solutions in different ways. Some articulate that the strategy that they used initially was not the most efficient when they hear other strategies.

Then … I pull out a picture story book. I’m not sure how they will react, but they are excited.

We start reading the back and then we turn to the first page. We are led by one of the boys to think about what a million is. How many ones in a million, how many tens, how many hundreds … We need some MAB to remind us of place value.


We read the first two pages of the book. One of the girls wants to add the dots on each page. She grabs a pen and starts adding. And then each of the others jump onboard. No-one thinks of using a calculator. No-one looks at the pages of the book (where the sum of the dots is recorded).

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 10.09.16 am.png

“I want to add them…”

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 10.09.05 am.png

“I want to use the white board.”

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 10.08.54 am.png


We’ve gone totally off track. We have no idea what the book’s purpose is or how it works. But … They are unstoppable and when I need to leave, my learners want to explore “just a little bit more”. So I copy one page of the book for each of them. They want to dig deeper at home. Tomorrow we will share our insights.

After each session, we reflect –

  • What have I learnt?
  • What did I find challenging?
  • What do I still want to know?
  • What was my “aha” moment?

I can answer all of these questions every session.

What a privelege it is to learn with a small group of children for an extended period of time … To get to understand their thinking, challenges, strengths – outside of the “normal” learning environment.

About Jina Belnick

I am a full time learner - tumbling head first into education and joining my learners on the amazing adventures that we encounter daily at our PYP school in Melbourne, Australia.I am currently working in learning support, feeling the waters and seeing how teachers and learners are best supported, I am a listener and a leader, an inquirer and a follower. I'm loving the ride!
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