“In order to change the culture of education in the schools, you have to also change the culture around education.”
“Math is not just in the classroom, but it’s in the school, in the community, and in our world.”
“People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”
“Change doesn’t happen overnight and it’s not instantaneous. It’s going to take time to develop and it is the school leader’s job to hold that vision, protect it, and support it while it’s growing and gaining ground.”
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.
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.