Dec 09, 2019
Partnership Enriches Mathematics Learning
for Alburnett Students
Alburnett Instructional Strategist Genevieve Monthie, Grant Wood AEA Mathematics Consultant Emily Logan,
Alburnett Special Education Teacher Bailey Wright, and Alburnett teacher Kara Paulson
Visitors stepping inside Kara Paulson’s classroom might see and hear a different approach to math than what they might expect to find in a typical kindergarten classroom.
The room itself is like most kindergarten rooms: warmly and cheerfully decorated, with nooks for reading and seating designed to encourage collaboration. But Kara explains that there are subtle differences in how she approaches learning, especially mathematics. “At this age we make sure that the kids are learning through play, so we use a lot of games,” she said. “The biggest difference is that more ‘traditional’ classrooms might use a model where the teacher shows math, and then the students memorize what they were shown by the teacher. Now, we’re using number sense to dig deeper with student learning.”
The term ‘number sense’ refers to a student’s ability to understand the meaning of numbers. Beyond the tradition and basic ‘rules’ about math, number sense prompts a student to really grasp what numbers mean when making comparisons and measurements. Grant Wood Area Education Agency Mathematics Consultant Emily Logan has been helping Alburnett teachers like Kara use the principles of number sense to make small adjustments that have made a huge impact in the classroom and with Alburnett students.
Emily said, “We know kids can learn at a high level. The Alburnett team and I worked together to revamp our collective belief system first, then we started thinking about how we can personalize mathematics in the classroom."
Superintendent Dani Trimble explained that her staff worked along with Emily and Instructional Strategist Genevieve Monthie to evaluate mathematics instruction. “We looked at our student performance data but then really started intentionally digging into how we talked about math. There were opportunities to look past antiquated phrases and think more holistically about mathematics instruction, and our staff was ready to go there. As a result, we’ve migrated away from large curriculum work,” said Dani.
That means that classroom teachers are no longer sequentially teaching from math curriculum books as they had in the past. Instead, there are more opportunities for students to inquisitively drive the curriculum.
“With Grant Wood AEA’s support we were able to put a lot more eyes on our data, and that helped us identify our students’ needs and how to best support them,” commented Genevieve. “As educational leaders and teachers, we filled our own buckets with more knowledge about where we can deepen the learning for our students.”
Special Education Teacher Bailey Wright agreed. “Our students are truly understanding why mathematics works the way it does,” she said. “They aren’t just memorizing a procedure or how to solve a problem, they’re embracing the process - and sometimes the struggle - to figure out an answer.”
Emily shared, “Sometimes, the level of curiosity and questioning prompted with number sense allows the teacher to assess the level of understanding among the students, and determine which kids are ready to explore the topic in small groups, which need to work together with the teacher, and which are ready to problem solve more independently. In mathematics instruction this is called a three-act task. You engage students by presenting a problem; allow them to seek information and solutions; then engage the students in a solution discussion. The result is a more engaged group of students who are more actively learning with the support that works best for them,” explained Emily.
“Our math learning has completely turned upside down by the way Emily challenged our staff to think about how they can learn math. With her help we’re migrating away from large curriculum work with books and really thought about how to improve and differentiate our practices,” said Dani.