Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Time to Take A Stand: Closing the Learning Gap in Mathematics!

This week, at the Learning Forward (formerly NSDC) summer 2011 conference, my colleague Mona Toncheff and I had an opportunity to meet and work with mathematics teachers and leaders on issues of how to close the "Learning Gap" in Mathematics - during a 2 hour workshop format.

We used new technology (for us it was new) as a way to engage our participants on site as well as those that participated off site (remotely) as part of Learning Forward's Virtual Conference. We decided to use Poll Everywhere (Thanks to Jon Wray for showing me how to use this site) as a way to determine the prior knowledge or beliefs of the participants (in this case our students for the session) and for a way to engage them immediately into our discussion - through texting using cell phones. However, as Mona reminded them, if you are going to do this in the classroom, be sure to warn the parents. Not all students have unlimited texting data plans!

The first question we asked is shown below.

We asked this question because we had built the session on the foundation of two primary causes to the Leaning Gap in Mathematics and we wanted a sense of validity (or not) from the audience perspective. Our contention was that two of the primary causes of the current learning gap are:

1. A primary content and teaching emphasis on Procedural Fluency – A 20 Year absence of teaching and learning for understanding.

2. A tolerance for isolated faculty and administrative decision-making in six areas of K-12 school mathematics - the lack of working in and as an authentic professional learning community grade level, course based or vertical team. 

For our session handout, that describes these themes and work in detail, please click here. 

In addressing cause # 1 - A 20 Year  absence of teaching and learning for understanding - we spent our time in deep discussion on the CCSS Mathematical Practices. Looking at the CCSS expectations and demands for student learning with understanding. In the CCSS, student procedural fluency AND student understanding are both required. Remember an earlier blog discussion, about succumbing to the "Tyranny of OR" Vs. the Genius of AND". The CCSS in Mathematics require the genius of AND. To close the Learning Gap in Mathematics in this country, we must embrace student demonstrations of Procedural Fluency AND Conceptual Understanding. One cannot be sacrificed at the expense of the other - and now the CCSS demand this be the case. 

So, after spending time unpacking the 8 mathematical practices - with a special focus on practice # 3 - Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others - we asked a very simple question: Understanding that the 8 CCSS mathematical practices are steeped in research, understanding that we can have a high level of certainty that student achievement (the learning gap) would significantly improve if every mathematics teacher would commit to lesson design action around these practices, then 

Are any of these practices negotiable? Does any teacher of mathematics have the choice NOT to teach for demonstrations of student understanding? 

We have been asking this question for 22 years since the launch of the Curriculum and Evaluation Standards from NCTM. It is time to take a stand. As a person of influence in your school and district, it is time to say you will embrace the genius of AND on this issue. By 2014-2015 the CCSS will demand it and even support it, as the "race" through 100 mathematics standards per year will end. The hope of the CCSS, is that vertical depth and not horizontal breadth will finally win the day in this decade. 

During this part of our workshop we also referenced several valuable resources from my colleagues, Skip Fennell, Jon Wray and Beth Kobett with the Elementary Mathematics Specialists and Teacher Leaders (ems&tl) project. They have great CCSS resources on their website and I encourage you to visit. 

The Noyce Foundation and the Silicon Valley Mathematics Intitiative also provides useful resources to your CCSS professional development work. fro more information about the SMART and PARCC consortia work, you can click the link accordingly. 

I will save my comments about part 2 of our workshop - A tolerance for isolated faculty and administrative decision-making in six areas of K-12 school mathematics - for another blog. But if you want to download the slides from our presentation, you can go to and do so (Thanks to tech guru Bill Ferriter for that sharing resource). 

Thanks to learning forward for a great summer 2011 conference! For more about the virtual conference sessions and followup you can click here.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Timothy,

    My name is Steve, from Poll Everywhere.

    I wanted to take a moment and thank you for sharing your experience with Poll Everywhere. It sounds like your workshop was a great success, and I'm glad our system could play a part in engaging your participants.

    We value our users experience and feedback immensely. If you have any additional comments or feedback, please do not hesitate to contact me,

    Thanks again!