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.


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.”