The last few weeks I have really come to appreciate more and more what the AMSTI program has done for math teachers. If you happen to not be from the state of Alabama AMSTI is the Alabama Math Science and Technology Initiative. Participating schools send their math and science teachers for 2 weeks of training in the Summer (and the teachers get paid) and the teachers receive AMSTI kits with the materials needed to do the activities in their classrooms. My first Summer of AMSTI training I totally didn't get it. The math training consists of going through some of the activities from the IMP units (All About Alice, Cookies, the Pit and the Pendulum, Fireworks, etc...). The teachers usually receive two drop-in units (classroom sets). As a participant in the training I sat there and thought, "I don't have enough time to do these activities in the classroom! I don't even have time to cover the material I am supposed to cover WITHOUT all these activities!" I also thought that the activities were too difficult. However, I did leave AMSTI training with a determination to put my students in groups the following school year and stick with it for a year no matter what.
The following school year a colleague (Sonya New) and I really started looking for discovery or inquiry-based activities to use in our algebra classes. We took "baby steps" and really only used a handful that year but we really started seeing the value in them. Then I attended year 2 of AMSTI algebra training and was blown away! I had 100 light bulbs go off as I realized that our "AMSTI books" did have the discovery/inquiry-based type activities that we had been scouring the Internet to find. Tanya Barnes and Melanie Griffis encouraged me to just try the activities with my students (even though I was still afraid some of them were "over their heads"). They told me that I would be pleasantly surprised. I left training that year just thinking that we really needed to dig into our IMP units and see which units covered which standards. Following this revelation I had the "chance meeting" of the president of It's About Time (the company that publishes the IMP books) Tom Laster, in Atlanta at the ISTE conference. And now our algebra teachers are piloting the new Meaningful Math Algebra textbooks that take the traditional approach BUT use the IMP units that we had been receiving training on at AMSTI. Those "AMSTI units" are not just activities to "drop in."
I would like to publicly (or not so publicly since most of them will not read this blog post) apologize to the AMSTI trainers and organizers for being so slow to "get it." Now that I have been teaching the curriculum I realize that doing an activity here or there just does not do it justice. When you go from the beginning to the end of the unit and see the way concepts are developed and revisited the brilliance of the curriculum can be seen. I am learning so many things about developing a concept. For instance, I have always thought that the "line of best fit" was to be taught when I am covering the statistics section and scatterplots. I have never thought to use real data and graph it, find the line of best fit, and have the students discover the rule for the line. We have been doing this without the help from graphing calculators. My students have "had their hands" on so much graphing already and we have not formally talked about slope-intercept form one time. However, they can find a rule or equation for a graph and they can find the "rate of change" within a context. When we talk formally about slope-intercept form they are going to have such a firm foundation on which to understand the concept. I can't wait to go completely through the book and see all the other ways the mathematical concepts are developed. THANK YOU AMSTI AND IT'S ABOUT TIME!