My Experience with SREB and the Math Design Collaborative

“I challenge you to teach with creativity, depth, and have students think critically instead of teaching a mile wide and an inch deep” said my administrator.  WHAT??!!  I glazed at him from across the room thinking he was crazy and wondering how I could get everything I needed to teach all in one school year and hope for students to perform well.  There are so many standards and so many things I need to teach the students.  I must teach a new section or concept daily and assign homework every day expecting all students to do the work.  This was not a problem for many students placed in advanced or honors classes.  If students were placed in a “regular” class the material was not advanced which would be the only difference.  The pacing and expectation would be the same.  How was this ever going to be possible (taking time to teach at a deeper level) for all students?  This has always been my mindset for years.  This is how teaching was demonstrated to me and was the only thing I knew how to do.  I am teacher.  I must stand up in front of the classroom and demonstrate how knowledgeable I am and how great I can do math.  Since I can demonstrate the math to them they should be able to do the math.  I expected students to copy wonderful examples from me and therefore they could do it themselves at home on their own.  Of course, some students would do their work and some would not.  As the year progresses, why would only some of the students retain the information?  Why didn’t all students “own it” since I taught it?  I knew there were going to be some paradigm shifts in teaching as technology advances; however, I never considered there could be paradigm shifts in methods of teaching students.

I remember our first MDC training session, with SREB consultant Ivy Alford, reading about a set of key practices impacting student achievement, diving deeper into understanding the common core state standards, learning about formative assessments and the OMG’s (Obstacles, Misconceptions, Gaps) students would encounter and try to shift a traditional classroom of students in rows to a collaborative design.  This was all very exciting and great new information but, how was I going to get all of this done and still be the “star in front of the classroom”?  Do I have time to do all of this?  I know I want my students to be a better math student than I was in school so let’s try this.

Over the past few years, as we received more training, I continued to implement the new teaching practices as it related to the collaborative design and the eight student standards for mathematical practices.  This was very hard to “let go” of the control in the classroom and let the students do the work and the talking.  Asking inquiry based questions, changing how I would respond to student questions, instead of taking the pencil out of their hand while doing the work for them, and encouraging them to continue working through an attainable productive struggle was a struggle for me.  I just wanted to do the work for them because I thought I was really helping them.

While there are many situations I could share about the students and the change of the design in my classroom, the one that resonates with me the most is the progression of the implementation and results of the same Formative Assessment Lesson (FAL) I used over the past three years with regular Algebra 2 classrooms.  I gave students Representing Polynomials Graphically FAL.  The amount of suggested time to implement the FAL took longer than I had read or expected.  I guess I might not have been completely sold on the whole idea of when and how to implement a FAL.  The students were engaged and they seemed to like the activity.  Since I am a math teacher I thought I could just implement this the way I wanted since I can do the math.  I did not follow or read the script.  I just picked out the parts I thought were fun and going to be effective.  I did not consider the OMG’s that could happen and they certainly did happen.  The post assessment results were average but not as great as I hoped.  The next year, I decided to listen to the training we had and read the script but, I did not follow the activity completely as recommended.  Because students could not remember everything I had read from the script and I did not show the suggested projector slides, I improvised on what I thought would be helpful.  The students completed the FAL in a shorter amount of time than the previous year but, not in the amount of time as indicated in the lesson.  The assessment results were still improving but not to where 80% of the students were scoring 80% or better.  This year, I followed the script!  I created a PowerPoint slide as suggested.  All students were actively engaged and able to complete the lesson (with the extension piece) in the suggested amount of time.  I invited my administrator, evaluator, and instructional coaches from other buildings on campus to observe so they could provide me feedback to reflect upon.  I was excited to show case the students doing the work, constructing viable arguments, and critique the reasoning of each other.  I could facilitate a classroom and visit students working collaboratively together.  The implementation of the MDC helped my students to learn to work together as a team and support one another as they take ownership in their learning.  There were many times I would hear students say “I can’t believe it’s time to go.  Class is over already?”  They have fun learning in the classroom……yes, a fun math classroom. The post assessment results reflected at least 80% scoring 80% or better.

I wondered would a collaborative design work in a Precalculus classroom.  I started to create some collaborative activities like speed dating, gallery walks, formative assessment-like activities, and even stations.   They loved the “math noise” classroom and the conversations between the students for this level of a math classroom was very interesting.  This year, I was finally able to “let go” and require the students to do more of creating the work and reason with each other prior to a post assessment.  In the past, I would normally create the review practice for students since I knew what was on the test and what the test questions would look like.  This year, students created items for review, practiced each other’s items, provided feedback to each other and reviewed feedback left by their peers.

So, did all of this have an impact on the end of course performance for students?  Even though the state exam only provides us with one piece of evidence, the results from the Algebra 2 End of Course Exam compared to the Algebra 1 End of Course Exam for the same group of students is shown below.

While we continue to make improvements with teaching and learning, along with the implementation of MDC, I can honestly say there is a positive impact of deeper learning versus surface learning as it relates to the achievement of students.  Going a “mile wide and an inch deep” is what I used to do before I was challenged by my administrator.  The last words of coaching I received from the high school instructional coach my last day of school was “Great job!  Your data shows and proves it! We now have evidence that it works!”  😊

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