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Faculty Spotlight: Andy D’Avanzo, Middle School math educator

By Jennifer Fogarty, communications content manager
Read how a member of the math department encourages LJCDS students to make mistakes.
Raise your hand if your teacher made lemonade in math class. Middle School math educator Andy D’Avanzo’s fifth-grade students watched a word problem come to life before their eyes. It made the question “How many lemons would it take to make six cups of lemonade,” an experiential exercise. The basic principles that relate fractions to ratios and proportional reasoning were learned by using a relevant example.

Students talk through how they would come up with an answer instead of just revealing the number. “One of the most important things about learning math is to de-emphasize the solution and emphasize the process of understanding,” shares Mr. D’Avanzo. “I think there's such an emphasis on speed and what math fluency means, but fluency in a language doesn't mean you speak really fast. Fluency with language means you can construct meaningful sentences and pull things together to convey meaning. Fluency with math should be the same way because knowing 9 x 6 = 54 is not fluent math, that’s memorization.”

Students in Mr. D’Avanzo’s class are encouraged to count on their fingers, draw pictures and use multiple strategies. They’re shown that there’s more than one way to complete a problem and that math is a series of steps that can be exploratory and creative. And most important, students are allowed to make mistakes. Mistakes are seen as an opportunity to learn.

“I like to create an experience where every student can be right because a lot of times math is an equation and there’s one correct answer,” shares Mr. D’Avanzo. “By changing the purpose of an assignment or opening it up so that there could be multiple possibilities is really powerful because it empowers students to take more risks and understand that even if one student got the right answer, then maybe what they have to contribute is valuable and that’s not the only thing that carries weight in the class.”

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