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Math teaching being transformed at RPS 205

File art teaching-learning math B

The world used to be divided into math people and “not-math” people. You either got it, or you didn’t.

Some teachers in Rockford Public Schools are challenging that assumption. They are on the cutting edge of a new approach to math instruction with concepts that include:

–There’s no such thing as a math brain

–Mistakes are how we learn

–Sometimes the best teacher isn’t in front of the class but right next to you

Innovation in math teaching can be credited to two things: online professional development through Stanford University and district-wide Curriculum Leadership Teams.

Ashley Anderson teaches third grade at West View Elementary School. She was one of more than 100 teachers in RPS 205 who were enrolled this year in the Stanford course, “How to Learn Math.” The course highlighted the latest research on learning and the brain, how that research applies to teaching math and how there is no such thing as a certain type of student who’s good at math. (Hear the Stanford professor on Ted Talks.)

Anderson said the Stanford course changed the way she interacts with students, especially those who have difficulty mastering grade-level concepts like three-digit addition and subtraction.

Now, she tells her students: “It’s not that you didn’t get it. You didn’t get it yet. I’ve been using that word ‘yet.’”

Susan Uram, RPS 205 dean of K-8 math, says the new approach is not just about getting answers, it’s about making sense of the problem. ”We need to teach students about asking good questions,” Uram said.

Students gain problem-solving skills they can use the rest of their lives, but teachers gain something valuable, too. “It’s very liberating to say, ‘It’s not just about how fast (students) can produce an answer,’” Uram said.

Teaching is also changing through the district’s Curriculum Leadership Teams. Now more than 200 teachers strong, these research-based teams define what students should know, what they should be able to do and how it should be taught.

Ben Epperson, an eighth grade math teacher at Kennedy Middle School, is a CLT member. His leadership has been noticed: Earlier this month, he presented his step-by-step teaching plan at the Wisconsin Mathematics Council annual conference in Green Lake. Key to his approach: Making sure students master concepts before they move on.

“We have a lot of conversations with our students about how no one is born excellent at everything.  Mistakes happen,” Epperson said. “We work really hard to make sure that those missteps are not embarrassing or shameful. And we support each other.”

Anderson at West View employs the same collaborative techniques. “There are times your classmates are not going to learn from me,” she tells her students. “They are going to learn from you.”

Mary Kaull is strategic communications coordinator for the Rockford Public Schools. Click here to subscribe to this blog. Also, please like RPS 205 on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

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