Mar 04, 2020
Student Discussions Support Achieving Math Solutions at West Branch
Elementary teachers Barb Wargo, Tammy Bower, Jan O’Neil, Joan Donovan, Tricia Harpole, Sara Kinney, and Alicia Salger listen as Dana Merfeld talks about progression of early number and counting.
The students and teachers at Herbert Hoover Elementary in West Branch are building a collaborative learning environment by practicing and discussing their math learning as a part of the Grant Wood AEA Elementary Math Project.
The PreK-6 elementary math project is a new Grant Wood AEA initiative based on research-based and field-tested instructional routines. This project’s focus is helping teachers develop students’ understanding and skills in ways that produce life-long mathematical skills.
Jess Burger, principal at Hoover Elementary, explained that the strength of the elementary math project is getting students to talk about their math thinking. “This is a key focus area,” Burger explained. “The research supports the fact that discussion increases the development of the students’ math thinking skills.”
Through the elementary math project, teachers use a tool called “Talk Moves” to help promote classroom conversations that are mathematically productive. This tool helps extend student learning and demonstrates to students that there are a variety of ways to solve math problems.
“The elementary math project has been a win-win with our K-4 students,” Burger continued. “The program has increased the dialogue between students, and we have seen a difference during math instructional blocks in terms of the amount of time students are talking. That increase has been phenomenal.”
“As part of the program, there are key phrases and signals that the students use to indicate agreement or need for clarification of another student's thinking,” she said. “The program teaches students how to respectfully disagree.”
Burger shared that at the same time, a student might share his or her thinking about how another student solves the problem. “The students are able to share their thinking, and they realize that there are multiple ways to solve a problem,” she continued. “Our students are more comfortable saying to their peers, ‘I solved the problem this way, how did you solve it?’ Everyone’s math brain works differently. Finding more strategies to pick from helps our students determine what works for them to solve math problems. We welcome this type of learning for our students.”
Professional development supports teaching and learning
This is the second year of the three-year elementary math project at Hoover Elementary. “I think one of the biggest strengths from an implementation standpoint is that the program’s design is aligned with a good professional development model,” Burger continued. “Teachers have two hours of professional development on Wednesdays. They also meet as a grade-level team in a math lab and discuss the strategy and how it impacts the grade level. Then they share their learning with students in the classroom.”
“The fact that our teachers are able to participate in professional development regularly and receive feedback on implementation in the classroom increases effectiveness of the program,” Burger continued. “We were able to complete five classroom visits last year, and another four or five are planned this year to support our continued implementation,” she said.
“Through the use of the various talk strategies, and mathematical practices, students developed a much stronger understanding of number sense,” said Mary Buol, a first-grade teacher. “Students were talking and making sense of numbers with each other and, doing the important role of thinking. This process was student-driven.”
“The professional development continued my professional learning more than can be explained in words, Buol continued. “It brought my teaching to a new level where I was supporting and asking students to do more than I ever had before, and they were learning at higher levels because they were doing the work.”
Lacey Becker, a second-grade teacher, shared that all students use the elementary math project’s Talk Moves, which promotes a common language when discussing their learning and explaining their thinking during math. “Finding the answer to a math problem is one thing, but being able to explain the path that was used to reach that answer takes students’ learning to the next level,” she explained. “The math project supports this in a manner that is suitable for students of all ages.”
Becker continued, “The way the professional development is set up allows teachers to receive direct instruction from Grant Wood AEA consultants, collaborate and plan with grade level teams, and implement new strategies in the classroom while being observed and receiving immediate feedback.”
“I plan to continue to use the language and strategies associated with the math project in my classroom this year and for years to come,” she continued. “Another neat aspect about Talk Moves is that they can be used across subject areas. Students are using the ‘me too’ hand signal and adding on when showing agreement with other students’ ideas during literacy, signaling they have multiple ideas to share and revising their thinking during science, and turning and talking to discuss ideas before sharing out during our Leader in Me lessons.”
"We are very fortunate to have the collaboration of Mrs. Burger, teachers, instructional coaches, and AEA staff,” said Christa Diemer, a district instructional coach. “I am excited to witness the students' growth in mathematical thinking, and the ability to communicate their mathematical reasoning. I'm looking forward to year two."
Collaboration with Grant Wood AEA
Grant Wood AEA Math Consultants Dana Merfeld and Sara Whitt support the Hoover Elementary teachers’ professional learning by completing classroom visits, coaching and team teaching.
Merfeld explained, “During the second year of the elementary math project, the teachers will continue to implement the instructional strategies and Talk Moves while learning about the progressions of the elementary math standards. We will also focus on student strategies and think about how teachers' questioning and instructional moves can enhance student learning. When we listen to students, we better understand their reasoning and can help students move to the next level.”
During the third year, the learning will focus on the 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Instruction by Margaret Smith and Mary Kay Stein. Merfeld shared these practices include anticipation, monitoring, selecting, sequencing and sharing.
“This is really where all three years of learning come together,” she continued. “The goal is in the standards for mathematical practice. Students should not only be learning mathematical content, but should also be learning how to be mathematicians. Mathematicians reason, critique and justify, attend to precision, use modeling and tools, look for structure and regularity, and persevere in making sense out of problems.”
“We have so many positive things to say about Dana and Sara’s connectedness to the classroom and understanding of math instruction and support for our implementation process,” Burger said. “Our Grant Wood AEA consultants are well versed with current classroom implementation practices.”