Our students at AHSTW were struggling with learning Number Sense in the Primary (K-3) grades. We were also looking to purchase a new math curriculum. In order to educate our staff and make sound decisions for our students, it was decided that we needed to learn more about the eight mathematical practices. The Primary Building Principal and the three building-level instructional coaches began to build professional development around the book Principles to Actions, Ensuring Mathematical Success for All, by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
The learning for the leaders of the professional development began by reading the book. Then, we had conversations about what we wanted the goal of the learning for our teaching staff to be. We determined that the target audience would be all primary teachers, those intermediate teachers (grades 4-8) who teach mathematics, plus any high school mathematics instructors. The goal would be to inform teachers about the eight effective mathematical practices as defined by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and help them learn ways to implement the practices into their daily math lessons. It was determined that this learning would take place during the monthly professional development held on-sight at the district level.
We began in October by sharing the Eight Mathematical Teaching Practices with our group of math teachers. We asked them which, if any, they were using in their classrooms currently, and which they felt would be valuable in a new curriculum. As part of this conversation, we asked teachers to think about their experiences as a learner in mathematics as a child.
In November, we did a brief review of the 3 Key Shifts in Mathematics. The team determined that we needed to review the Key Shifts in order to assure that all math teachers were keeping those ideas at the forefront of their learning as we integrated the concepts of the effective teaching practices. We wanted to make sure that our teachers were aware of best practices when it came to how students learn mathematics and were able to apply that learning.
Once we finished that review, we moved into learning about building procedural fluency from conceptual understanding. With the Common Core Standards came a new understanding of the term “fluent”. Several of our teachers were still struggling with this new definition. We determined that this concept needed more exploration to understand. During this month’s professional development, we spent a lot of time using different models and explanations of fluency to help teachers grasp that “fluent” does not simply mean “fast”. About half of the November professional development time was spent focused on the concept of fluency. This is an area that we are still working to develop, district-wide.
During our January meeting, we determined that we needed to refocus on the “why” behind our professional development for this year. Teachers were hitting that mid-year slump and needed a refresher to motivate them as to why we were pursuing this learning opportunity. After we reviewed that, we touched briefly on the importance of making sure that students were given the opportunity to learn math in a sequential manner. The idea of concrete to pictorial to abstract made a lot of sense to our primary teachers, but was a real stretch, and even met with resistance from our middle school and high school staff. They were not ready to hear that eighth and ninth graders, much less students beyond that, needed to use manipulatives to understand abstract concepts in math class.
This month we also focused on two more of the instructional strategies. We choose to cover implementing tasks that promote reasoning and problem solving and supporting productive struggle in learning math. We knew these were going to be two difficult ones to grasp, but felt they went well together. We tied in a couple of different ideas to the discussion around productive struggle to help them understand that students NEED to struggle to learn! This is where many teachers want to help students too much, yet it’s where students need to spend some time as that’s where the learning actually happens.
February professional development was amazing! For whatever reason, maybe it was the one where teachers felt like they had something they could take right back to their classrooms and use, or maybe we, as presenters, were more comfortable with this content, but this was when teachers started making connections and starting giving terrific feedback to us as presenters. The strategies of using and connecting math representations, facilitating meaningful math discourse, and posing purposeful questions, allowed us to pull in a variety of different strategies that our area education association (AEA) professionals had shared with us that we thought were very useful.
We used a variety of examples of the Lesh Model for teachers to have students share their answers. Our transitional kindergarten and first grade teachers did an outstanding job of using this in their classrooms! We also used the website “Which One Doesn’t Belong?” to model how to facilitate math discourse and pose purposeful questions. At the end of this presentation, we included a resources page that allowed teachers to go back to their classrooms and use some of the tools that we had used throughout the day. Even though it was a dreary day in February, the feedback was terrific, and teachers were getting excited about what they were learning!
The team felt like we had great momentum going into the professional development day for March, however, we also knew that it was going to be the last day of learning about the effective practices for math for the year. We only had one practice, elicit and use evidence of student thinking, left to cover, but we wanted to make sure that we left on as high a note as last month, and that people were motivated to continue to implement these strategies in their classrooms.
We spent some time at the beginning of the day discussing and writing learning goals and success criteria. As a district, we follow the CRISS Framework for Teaching and Learning, so throughout the professional development, we wanted to make sure that was also part of the focus as we thought about lessons and how they are laid out. We also wanted to encourage teachers of math to focus not so much on the right answer, but rather on how students arrived at their answer. Did you add first, or multiply? Were you wanting to put things into groups, or separate the groups? Tell me more about what you are thinking … Encouraging students to explain their thinking instead of focusing on the answer is a huge part of the last effective practice. If we can get them to explain their thinking, then we can build on what they already know to help them learn from there. Also, it helps other students to know how they got to their answer, whether the answer is right or wrong.
The time ended with a review of the eight effective teaching practices. We provided some time to think and discuss about what they had learned and what they were going to do with their new learning, and how they were going to transfer their knowledge to their classroom. Again, we provided a slide of resources, as that seemed to receive a lot of positive responses from the last session.
I mentioned that teachers did implement some of the strategies that were suggested in our presentations. Several of them have read various parts of the book as we were presenting the strategies throughout the year. Our FAST math results do not reflect whether or not our students are impacted by our professional development this year.
In the school year 2020-2021, our kindergarten students fell by 10% proficiency from fall to spring on the FAST earlyMath composite. However, the kindergarten only fell by 4% on the same test in the same time period in the 2021-2022 school year. The AHSTW first grade students gained 4% proficiency from fall to spring on the FAST earlyMath composite in the 2020-2021 school year but gained 6% proficiency in the 2021-2022 school year. Similarly, the second grade was 20% more proficient in the spring of 2021 than in the fall of 2020 on the FAST Math automaticity assessment but was 25% more proficient in the spring of 2022 than in the fall of 2021. Third grade however, showed the most loss. They fell by 1% proficiency from fall 2020 to spring of 2021 on the FAST Math automaticity assessment. The scores on the fall of 2021 fell significantly, by 10%, to the spring of 2022 for the third grade.
Overall, we made growth, however, it is not consistent, and it is not all above 80%. There is also not enough information to tie the results we received to the professional development that we presented. It could have been the changes in something a teacher did or did not do in a classroom. We would need more information to be able to draw a conclusion like that. We have now adopted a new curriculum, and we are eager to see if we see scores above 80% to show that our universal tier is working.