New perspectives

When Sydney Conley was completing her methods courses at the Ohio State University at Mansfield, she was not particularly fond of the Algebra Project training she was receiving. However, after going on to teach at a Mansfield charter school, Prospect elementary, and Butler in the Clear Fork school district, she came to realize there is no other method she would rather use in her classroom.

“Throughout that [5 years of college] I was just like, ‘I don’t think so.'” “When I stared applying [the Algebra Project] with methods and student teaching…I saw how the kids could take it and run with it.  They can really flourish with letting them discover what you’re trying tot teach.”

The core of Math Literacy and the Algebra Project is allowing students to take an active role in their own education. With this kind of instruction, they build their own ideas about how mathematics operates through experience and discussion. Conley began using Algebra Project instruction while teaching at a Mansfield charter school. When she transferred to Prospect Elementary in the Mansfield school district, this instruction became the foundation on which her students understood mathematics.

“[Instruction] was all Algebra Project, 5-step lesson, and I can say that my third graders last year completely understood the connection between area and perimeter because we did this Math Literacy lesson.”

When Conley made another transfer to teach Kindergarten at Butler, Math Literacy lessons made a huge impact in the engagement of her students as well. She used the winding game with her kindergarteners to teach the base-ten system, and they exceeded expectations.

“I couldn’t believe how much I had participation through my class. I was because they got to do it, they got to partake, and take ownership.”

Conley’s students were also using other methods they had learned in their classroom during their shared experience without being prompted. In her classroom, the students count to 100 every day. As they are counting, they clap their hands on each multiple of ten. Conley mentioned that as her students were playing the winding game, every time someone walked past ten chairs, the students would clap their hands without being asked.

“From learning about Algebra Project to now, I would’ve said, ‘absolutely I would never do this in a kindergarten classroom,’ when I started college. And now, I would’ve never thought kindergarten could do this, but they did it better than my expectations.”

However, one of the more difficult components of implementing  the Algebra Project instruction is letting the students form their own ideas without help. Conley mentioned that she had not been taught with the Algebra Project as she completed her schooling, which made it more difficult to understand how the students she would teach could come to master mathematics.

“Giving them the answer is contradictory to what Algebra Project is. You’re supposed to let them come up with something.”

Even though this method of instruction did not come easily to Conley at first, she now finds it to be completely worth while.


Kindergarteners teach the winding game

The goal of Math Literacy is to challenge students to take charge of their own learning and form their own ideas about how mathematics operates. Kimberly Ison’s Crestview kindergarten class certainly did just that.

Ison introduced the winding game with her class using numbers one to ten, and the students absolutely loved it. After discussing the success of the lesson with another kindergarten teacher, Ison arranged for her own students to pass along the new interactive game to another class.

“They went in and taught her classroom how to play it. They showed them a couple times, and then we had her class try it  and they were able to do it,” Ison said.

After seeing their success in teaching the winding game to the other class, Ison’s students were very proud and excited, and they wanted to keep teaching the game to more classrooms.

“To my knowledge in the history of our Math Literacy Program, this is the first time students have taught other students a grounding metaphor,” Co-director Terri Bucci said. “It’s excited to see how they have embraced a mathematical principle.”

Math is so often categorized under a specific stereotype of difficult, boring, complicated, not applicable, and overall unenjoyable. Stories such as this one are so remarkable to hear because they prove this stereotype wrong. Learning math is interesting and fun to these kindergarteners because they are taking ownership of their education. It becomes even more fun when they can teach what they have learned to other students to help them form ideas about math. We hope to see many many more classrooms look like Mrs. Ison’s in the future.

Teacher voice: Amy Bradley

“I struggled with mathematics my entire life.  I did not enjoy teaching it because I lacked confidence in my own knowledge and skills. In 2012, I began participating in the Math Literacy Initiative. At first, I was skeptical.  It was so different than any other methodology for mathematics.

Under the guidance of Dr. Terri Bucci and Dr. Lee McEwan, I not only have become a better teacher of mathematics, but a better mathematician. Yes, I actually consider myself a mathematician.  I no longer shy away from attempting mathematical problems and I love teaching math to my students.

Now, I am a Math Teacher Leader in my school building and I’m working toward my Doctorate in Leadership studies with a cognate focused on math education and pre-service teaching, all thanks to the Math Literacy Initiative and the collaborative efforts of Mansfield City Schools and The Ohio State University at Mansfield.”

Amy Bradley, K-1 grade teacher
Mansfield City School District

Teachers and students learn at CAMP

Nearly 50 teachers from 5 local school districts spent the summer honing their mathematics and teaching skills during Mathematics Literacy Initiative professional development classes.  The classes are part of a year-long professional development program based on the nationally renowned Algebra Project. Ohio State Mansfield’s initiative is the only K-8 PD program of its kind in the nation.

The Algebra Project targets high school students in the lowest quartile of performance who can benefit the most from this different approach to mathematics.

Terri Bucci, Associate Professor of Math Education and Lee McEwan, Mathematics Professor Emeritus, at The Ohio State University at Mansfield spread the concepts of Algebra Project to lower grade levels.

“What makes it unique from other Algebra Project programs is that it’s K-8,” Bucci said. “The teachers use the same structures vertically in their districts.”

The initiative implements the Algebra Project five-step process in the classroom. This innovative process uses a shared interactive activity to learn a new math concept, pictorial representations and writing to describe their experience, along with discussion to come up with a symbolic representation of their work.

“I have found that students who don’t usually get a chance to shine in math with a test get to show their work, which allows them to shine in the area they’re good at,” said Christy Walters, second grade teacher at Crestview.

Teachers take either a 3- or 4- day course for credit at the Ohio State University at Mansfield which can be used to obtain a graduate degree, Ohio Math Endorsement or continuing education credit. Teachers then spend two days creating a math lesson, which is then taught at a district math camp.

The Collaborative Application of Mathematics Pedagogy is where the teachers observe the teaching of their new lesson. The opportunity to see students’ reactions is where the uniqueness of the initiative shines.

“Lesson Study is where teachers design lessons and then watch other teachers teach the lesson that the group of them designed,” Bucci said. “It’s a really powerful process. These teachers are actually changing the way Mathematics is taught.”

Teachers report that their students are more attentive, enthusiastic, and involved in classroom activities following their participation in MLI professional development, and the teachers, themselves, are more excited about teaching math. Teachers in a recent program survey also agreed that the quality of their students’ work was noticeably improved.

The future for the MLI as is filled with growth. An Ohio Mathematics Alliance is in the works, as well as national collaborations.

“Right now our goal is to grow the number of districts we’re working with so that we can have even more collaborations with districts in the region,” Bucci said.

As co-directors, Bucci and McEwan are only a part of the initiative. Teachers, principals, and superintendents have come together as change sponsors and agents in an alliance to advance professionalism in mathematics education.

“Terri and I are sort of the figureheads of this work, but lots of people have worked hard,” McEwan said. “I think the important thing is that the teachers themselves see the need for it, and they’re the ones who are going to carry this out.”