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  • Joseph Coleman

Leah Lichtenfeld: Creating Students Who Love Math

Leah Lichtenfeld of Joe Harris Elementary studied psychology and mathematics in college but wasn’t heading toward teaching initially. Upon looking for ways to use her psychology degree, she landed a job as an Educational Assistant in a high-needs special education classroom, where her teaching journey ultimately began.

Leah Lichtenfeld refers to Turn and Talk when speaking about the successful strategies of her classroom. The idea is to get students speaking the language of math efficiently, which allows them to vocalize their thought processes for the benefit of other students.

Leah also emphasizes having her students share their work with the class. As students share their work, they learn how to field questions from their classmates and talk through their problem-solving strategies. “Once they learn how to do it, it empowers them to have a voice in expressing their thinking, it gives them an opportunity to practice using mathematical language, and it provides a safe space where they can learn that mistakes happen every day in math and that they are opportunities to learn more,” says Leah.

Sharing their thoughts aloud is a core tenant of building a “classroom family,” as Leah calls it. A high level of interaction and sharing requires a strong set of foundational expectations, especially for second graders. The classroom family atmosphere minimizes the fear associated with making mistakes, instead emphasizing that mistakes are part of the learning process. “Each day, I want students to feel like they are growing in their knowledge and in their confidence,” says Leah. “I hope they leave class each day proud of the work they have done and of the people that they are becoming.”

Technology is weaved throughout her classroom in conjunction with traditional pencil and paper methods. Beyond those, though, Leah engages her students with math through games, simulations, and digital tools.

All these tools come together to make a distinct impact on her students’ mathematics journeys. “I hope that when the math gets more and more challenging over the years, they will continue to remember this feeling and hold onto the idea that challenges mean we’re learning, not failing,” says Leah. While not the case in every classroom, it’s routine to hear Leah’s students tell anyone who will listen just how much they love math.

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