A group of six Sacred Heart Schools, Atherton (SHS) K-5 teachers recently attended a math conference, collectively taking 77 sessions to learn the latest methods and research in math instruction.
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) conference allowed the faculty to take away strategies from top experts to renew their practice and deepen students’ problem-solving skills.
Lower School Math Department Head Amy Owens said the mission and vision of math instruction is evolving in the Lower School.
“Because we were able to travel and experience the NCTM conference together, we’ve been able to bond as a team and build a very strong foundation of common ground within our teaching practice and content knowledge,” said Owens.
Lower and Middle School Instructional Coach Ellen Carroll, whose role includes supporting teachers and planning professional development opportunities, said attending the conference is one of the ways in which the math department is meeting several of its goals.
“One goal is to renew ourselves and find new energy around teaching. We want to ensure there’s vertical alignment in those practices along the trajectory from kindergarten to grade 5,” said Carroll.
Teachers are targeting areas where student assessments are not as strong, said Owens. “Some areas are measurement, data, and geometry, as well as fact fluency.”
In terms of fact fluency, added Carroll, in the past 10 years research shows that for students to understand facts, the best practice is not just memorization. “We know that students need conceptual understanding in order to move in the direction of knowing and recalling facts,” said Carroll.
Another goal for the teachers includes “going deeper with problem solving,” so students can better explain their mathematical understanding, which helps teachers differentiate between the needs of many learners and design lessons accordingly. One of the categories of sessions at the conference was mathematical understanding.
“That’s an area of focus for us—to create more discourse and bring forward more student voices in our classes. Solving and explaining math rationale brings all voices to the table, creating a sense of belonging for students and allowing them to find their access point,” said Carroll.
One such strategy involves looking at the different types of math fluency and providing math games and problems where students are given different roles. “That allows a structure so each person in the group has a specific role, so each can contribute equally to small group problem-solving,” said Carroll.
SHS Kindergarten teacher Carol DeZutti appreciated the ability to talk with and attend sessions with Sarah Schaefer, one of the authors of the new SHS kindergarten math curriculum, “Developing Roots,” based on Singapore math and Montessori math.
“The curriculum is working as a bridge between the SHS Montessori Preschool math and the Lower School Singapore math curriculum,” said DeZutti. “The curriculum encourages children to explore multiple ways to solve problems, and teaches students to think deeply about math, talk about math, and reflect on their learning.”
Schaefer asked DeZutti to stay in contact with her and join her online group, where DeZutti has already found many new ideas to bring to her kindergarteners.
Several speakers encouraged the teachers to design lessons that “stick.” These lessons capture students’ attention immediately and make a deep impression which helps them retain the information.
“This is not always easy to do—I’ve been trying to tweak my lessons to make them more ‘sticky,’” said DeZutti. A couple ways to do that is by offering something unexpected in the math problem that fires up the “guessing machine,” or a scenario that connects with the students emotionally, giving them an “aha” moment.
This conference and others going forward are made possible by the school’s associate teacher program, which launched in the 2018-19 school year with one associate; it has now grown to include one associate per grade level from K-8. The associate teachers manage the classrooms while other teachers are away, instead of the school needing to hire substitutes. “This provides students with an adult they are familiar with, who knows the classroom structure and routines,” said Carroll.
Professional development for teachers at SHS is a priority, said Carroll. “A huge aspect of why it’s important is it allows us to examine our practice and make sure it matches the current research. It’s rejuvenating to deliver your instruction in a new way that keeps you excited and engaged.”