Tuesday, May 26, 2015

End-of-Year Teacher Reflections on IMP Meaningful Math Algebra

I have been challenged by Brian Lawler to answer the same End-of-Year Reflection questions that my students answered. He reworded them a little and I am going to paste them into this blog and answer them. They are all very thought-provoking!

1. How was this experience "teaching mathematics" different from your previous work teaching mathematics?  How was the math itself different? Did you learn the mathematics differently?

This teaching experience has been different in numerous ways. First, I have never taught a curriculum that had unit problems or "themes." Having a context for almost every algebra topic that I taught this year truly did make the subject more meaningful to my students. Secondly, the tasks are written in a way that students are given the opportunity to discuss and "struggle" with the problems even if they do not initially understand the math behind it. The teacher's guides always provide you with great "leading questions" that help you to guide your students to discovering the math without you just saying, "This is how you do this problem. Write it down." Having the teacher's guides AND having seen this style of teaching at AMSTI training were huge helps for teaching this curriculum the way the authors intended (or at least close to the way it was intended to be taught). We also received training from It's About Time in which we were able to go through many of the activities as "students."

When going through the training as a student (at AMSTI and It's About Time training) I was reminded often to quit thinking like a teacher. I think that one piece of advice was one of the most helpful. At first I would only see the training from a teacher's perspective and I would be worried about what formula I should use to solve the problems. As I taught this curriculum I have realized that the students are asked to use common sense, repeated patterns, and the context in order to solve the problems. The formulas can also be used (and taught, of course!) but when a student is taught to totally rely on formulas and then they get on the ACT (or other standardized test) and forget the formulas they don't have the problem-solving experiences that will help them to persevere and be successful.

This is my 2nd year to teach the entire year with my students sitting in groups of 4. Although I had already taught with students grouped last year, the majority of the year the only function the groups had were that my students could check to see if they had the same answer on a problem and help each other if someone was confused. This year the IMP Meaningful Math Curriculum provided my students with opportunities to utilize group work in a whole new way. The problems were presented in such a way that the students would start discussing their ideas on the best way to solve the problem. Sometimes a few of them would work quietly until they felt like they had an idea to share with the group. Other times they would sit there and talk about it before they tried to put pencil to paper. The exciting thing was that the groups this year were used for actual mathematical discussions about how to solve problems.

I think what I "learned differently" was that the students will really and truly try different approaches to solving problems if you give them the freedom. When I used to stand at the board and show them how to do a particular type of problem that is the way they did it. However, I have seen multiple times this year that if I give them a task and then give them the opportunity to figure it out on their own (with the support of their group members) they will solve it with various approaches that make better sense to them. I use to teach them the way that I thought was best. This year has taught me that struggling math students do not interpret and work through a problem in the same way that an algebra teacher does!

2. How have you changed personally as a result of your experience? Has your confidence in your own ability grown? How has your experience of working with math-teacher colleagues changed?

I had a day or two that I would kind of go back into my "old teacher" mode and stand at the board doing examples and "giving notes." I would actually stand there and think that I was boring myself to death! HAHA! I have learned a new way to teach that is much more engaging. I do not want to go back to my "old teacher" mode again.

My confidence in my ability to teach math has grown. I have always been a confident math student. I was good at math and so I wanted to be a math teacher. In the past I believed that math was something that some students were gifted at and others were not. The way this curriculum is written gives students more than random "number crunching" in math class. This is a problem-based curriculum in which they are constantly applying the math within a context that gives it a purpose. Using this curriculum literally helped me to reach students that had failed my class in previous years because of lack of interest.

I am blessed to be a part of a terrific team of math teachers at Etowah High School. Sonya New and Gary Webb were also implementing this algebra curriculum. Sonya and I were able to discuss our lessons on a daily basis because we had the same planning period. It was harder to have discussions with Gary but we did have lunch with the entire math department so we were able to talk to him some during lunch. I do not believe we would have been as successful without the opportunity to collaborate and learn from each other.

I also reached out to other IMP teachers via email and Twitter throughout this year. I have found so many helpful teachers who have shared their teaching ideas and resources.

3. What are your mathematics-teaching goals for next year? How have those goals changed over the past year and why?

My main goal is to keep improving. There are many times I felt that I was blindly going through the curriculum this year. I would sometimes hesitate to introduce a particular "math formula" because I didn't want to "steal the thunder" of a future lesson. There are so many concepts that the curriculum kind of allows the student to develop his/her own understanding instead of a teacher just telling them how to perform the problem using a formula or particular process. Another goal I have is I want to do a better job teaching my students how to present their work next year!

My goal of teaching students to present their work is different because the types of tasks that they do in this curriculum are different. For example - If a student is asked to solve a system of equations where they are already given the 2 equations there is not a lot to discuss. They can go to the board and tell the class the method they chose (substitution, elimination or graphing) and then work it out. In the IMP curriculum the students would be given a scenario in which they have to write their own equations and then solve the system. They would have the opportunity to discuss how they assigned their variables, wrote the equations, solved the problems mathematically, and verified that the solution was viable within the context. There is so much more to discuss!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Gary Webb's reflection of 1st year teaching Meaningful Math Algebra

There are 2 other math teachers who have gone through IMP Meaningful Math Algebra with for the first time this year. I have mentioned them both from time to time in my blogs. One of them is Gary Webb. We were asked to write a testimonial about our first year's experience. I thought another teacher's perspective might be interesting. Here are his thoughts:

I really enjoyed teaching from the Algebra I Meaningful Math book this past school year. It was quite different than traditional math text books. The books have few examples, fewer problems, require deeper thinking, and don't have answers in the back either.

One takeaway I have is that your best students will do whatever you ask them to do. Some of the students are not going to do anything no matter what. These are the ones who complained most about the book. However, these are the same students who might do 5 traditional math problems in 30 minutes and complain about having homework.  The many students who are in the middle were the ones that I was able to reach. Students were more engaged because they were able to use their creativity in the math classroom, were in groups much more often, and were encouraged to discover mathematical concepts on their own.  I loved watching my students think and not be a robot and follow set procedures.

Gary Don Webb
Etowah High School

Friday, May 22, 2015

Results after 1 year of IMP Meaningful Math Algebra

I just wrote a post in which I shared some student reflections after their first year of IMP Meaningful Math Algebra. I have written several posts reflecting about the differences of the curriculum. I have learned so much about how to facilitate "productive struggle" in the classroom. The new curriculum along with thing I learned from blogs, Twitter posts and professional development (esp AMSTI and It's About Time training) have all combined to help me to make improvements in my instruction and test results. Many teachers ask about how the "new curriculum" is going and it went GREAT. Even though we were told not to expect growth in the first year of teaching the curriculum we analyzed the data and WE SAW GROWTH. Woohoo!

We had 3 algebra teachers at Etowah High School - Sonya New, Gary Webb, and I - who implemented the curriculum 7 weeks into the school year. There are 5 units and we only had time to complete 4 of them. We did not cover the Pit and the Pendulum. In the state of Alabama the last 3 years 8th graders took the ACT Explore. After our students complete algebra they take the ACT Quality Core Algebra End-of-Course test. We looked at this year's 2015 9th graders (who had the IMP curriculum) and compared them to last year's 2014 9th graders (who were taught with a more "traditional" curriculum). It is a little difficult to explain but I will try so that you will see that the results are valid. Instead of just looking to see if the average scores on the EOC tests improved we compared students who came in with the same score on the 8th grade Explore and then compared each group of same-scoring Explore students from the 2 years. We averaged each group's Algebra EOC test results and compared them. Then we just did a +/- on whether or not the scores improved or declined for each category (i.e. students from each year who came to us with a 12 on the Explore). When we factored in all of our students we had a +1.94. All year long we have said that we think the curriculum is beneficial for all students but that it really seems to make a bigger difference for our non-honors students. Therefore we took out the honors students from each of the 2 years and then did the +/- for growth again. We showed total growth of +9.02 which we believe to be an average of about +1.13 per student. The EOC Algebra test scores range from the 130s to the 150s so we feel that the improvement is significant.

Now...I am definitely not a statistics major so there is room for error in the analysis of this data. However, we are very excited to have seen this growth in our first year! We know that we have so much room to improve - especially since we didn't have time to cover all 5 units.

STUDENT End-of-Year Reflections on IMP Meaningful Math Algebra

Wow! What a year it has been! It has been a while since I have written a blog post due to the craziness of the end of the school year. I have so much that I would like to share.

Here are the student responses I got from the end-of-year review questions in the Fireworks portfolio. We did not have time to do the complete portfolio so I just had them answer the questions on pg. 421 in the book. I feel like what they have to say is more important than anything I could add. I only had one student to just absolutely say that he wishes he was taught out of the "old" type of textbook. Of course the responses I am sharing below are the "fun" ones for me to read as a teacher. There were some students that talked about how they didn't like that the book was so "wordy" but those same students later admitted to growing more confident and learning how to work in groups. I also had a few students to tell me that they still preferred to work alone but the overwhelming majority had positive things to say about group work. I told my students to be honest with their responses and give good explanations to support their comments. I told them I really wanted to know what they thought.

The first question set included the following:
How was this experience different from your previous work in mathematics? Did you learn the mathematics differently? How was the math itself different? 
Here are some of the responses: (I really wanted to fix all the grammatical errors...but I didn't because I didn't want to put my "spin" on what they said.)

  • The books we used this year was all word problems and that will help me during high school and college. 
  • Working in a group helped me understand better cause some of them understand better than I did and they helped me understand it better. 
  • It was more fun with the activities and been taught different.
  • ...the mathematics itself was longer and a bit harder also
  • My past experiences I didn't understand anything but now everything seems a lot easier. (this is a repeat algebra student)
  • This book is also different because it never (is) just straight on work it always has a fun story. Also it helps you a lot more than any other math book.
  • We actually learned about real work stuff. We did a POW about having a house, paying bills, etc...
The second question set included the following questions:
How have you changed personally as a result of your experience? Has your confidence in your own ability grown? How has your experience of working with others changed?
Student responses:

  • Working with others - I've started talking about it more than just trying to work on it.
  • I'm more conficent in math now than I ever was. (this comment was repeated by several students)
  • All year I've had a group to work and to collaborate with so I do believe I have gotten better working with others.
  • My confidence in math has grown a lot because at first I never answered out loud, but now I know that I can do it.
  • I don't hate math as much. It's not as hard as it was. My experience of working with others has grown alot and I can talk better with other people. (this student is a very quiet and shy young lady) 
  • I like working with other people. You get to see what everybody thinks and their ideas. My personality has grown to like math a little bit more. I still kinda don't like it, but I like it more than I did.
  • I think I have become more confident. I think I have learned to work with people that I normally don't talk to.
  • It's changed (experience working with other) cause if I need help then I can ask my group members.
  • It has helped me change by helping me with the word problems to look for clues through the paragraph. I myself had a hard time on word problems till this book helped me out.
  • Personally I changed mathematically. My math skills have grown and so has my confidence in my own ability. My experience of working with others has changed like now I can work better with others. I can cooperate with others better. (This student stated in his answers to the first question set that he didn't like the book. I sure did like the results he got though!!)
  • Yes my confidence has grown going into ninth grade. I never like working in groups but now I do.
  • From a special education student: My confidence grown alot since last semester. It change because I use to just copy people because I didn't know how to do it but now I work together to figure out the answer.
  • Working with others gave me more confidence and helped me understand something I didn't know and I could just tell my group and see if they know so we could help each other out.
The last question set had these questions:
What are your mathematics goals for the rest of your high school years? How have those goals changed over the past year and why?
Student responses:

  • I also would want to keep learning more math cuase it can actually be fun to do.... But this year in math it has been easier for me and I'm getting higher grades.
  • My goals have changed because I feel like I'm trying in my math classes and not just copying.
  • I wanna keep improving my math skills for the rest of my high school years and beyond that. My goals have changed over the past year because I learned that I can keep improving my math skills.