Student Achievement

Oregon District’s Math Academy Provides Lessons for Students and Teachers

By Marva Hinton — July 26, 2016 3 min read
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Students and teachers in an Oregon school district are learning side-by-side this summer as part of a new math academy.

The Klamath Falls City Schools’ Math Academy is designed to teach students new ways to solve math problems while teachers learn new ways to approach the subject.

Part of the idea is to get teachers to move beyond the lecture-type classes that have been the traditional model at the secondary level in favor of a more student-centered approach. They’re also learning how to help students solve problems in groups and how to encourage students to share their thinking about problems whether they have the right answer yet or not. The teachers are also taught to encourage students to have a growth mindset about their ability when it comes to learning math.

“The teacher is more of a coach on the side rather than the one standing in front of the class telling the kids exactly how everything has to go,” said Paul Hillyer, the superintendent of Klamath Falls City school district.

These new methods are being pushed as a result of the Common Core State Standards, which focus on things such as students collaborating to find answers and using manipulatives like algebra tiles to visualize math concepts.

The program is free and open to any student in 6th through 8th grades who wants to attend. Rising 9th graders who participate are eligible for academic credit. The program runs three weeks from 8:30 to 10:30 each morning. Teachers stay two hours longer for additional professional development.

All of the district’s middle and high school math teachers are attending the academy and about 100 students are taking part in the program.

How It Works

The first week, teachers from outside the area who are serving as consultants lead the classes using the school’s curriculum while the children’s regular teachers observe and spend time interacting with the students. Once the children leave, the teachers discuss what they saw and what they learned about the students. The second week. the two groups of teachers work together to facilitate lessons, and the third week, the regular teachers work on their own to implement what they’ve learned.

“A lot of times when you go to a more traditional kind of professional development training, someone is talking at you and giving you information and then you go away and say, ‘well this won’t work with my kids because my kids are different,’ said Gayle Yamasaki, the director of the district’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. “Here, we’ve really taken away that barrier because these are your kids, and so you then are able to practice day after day after day to see how do we implement what we’ve learned.”

The math academy is the brainchild of Janis Heigl, a woman who spent 45 years in the classroom and is the president and owner of Educational Solutions Northwest, an educational company that collaborates with school districts to increase student achievement through teacher training and help in choosing curriculum. Her staff of trained teachers lead the program.

In the math academy, students are not grouped according to ability. But Heigl said everyone learns something about problem solving when students work collaboratively no matter where they started.

“The student who could do it algorithmically and could do it with a formula very easily, doesn’t have that ease with a visual model,” said Heigl. “But the kid with the visual model has total ease of that, and he’s learning how to do it with a more algorithmic or symbolic or abstract way. There’s an opportunity for both to learn from each other and appreciate their individual differences on how they solve problems.”

Heigl is set to come back on a monthly basis throughout the school year to continue her work with these teachers.

The math academy is being funded by a state grant in addition to money the district uses for after-school programs.

“My hope is that we’ve generated an interest in math with these kids so that when they come back to school in the fall they won’t be dreading math, they’ll be looking forward to it,” said Hillyer.

Photo: Four students from the Klamath Falls Math Academy build a card house as part of an opening day problem-solving activity. (Credit Educational Solutions Northwest)

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Time and Learning blog.