Published On: Wed, Dec 11th, 2013

New math program has students working together

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Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

Thanks to a grant received by math coach Joanna Burt Kinderman, Marlinton Middle School and Green Bank Elementary-Middle School are using a new program – Power Teaching – which has students working together.
At the board of education LSIC (Local School Improvement Council) meeting at MMS December 2, members of the math department explained the program.

Seventh grade teacher Teresa Rhea explained that the program and grant was developed by John Hopkins University, Old Dominion University and the Success for All foundation.

“We got the grant for Marlinton Middle,” she said. “It’s the only middle school in the state that got the grant. Green Bank is also using the program but they’re not officially a Power Teaching site. We’re having to do the data collection and all that type of thing, but they got the same training that we did, and they’re using the same materials we do.”

The program was developed as a way for the nation to gain strides in the mathematics and science fields.

“About three or four years ago, I guess it was just an eye opener to the powers that be on the national level that the United States was no longer the leading industrialized country, especially in math, science and engineering,” Rhea said. “On the national level they started coming up with Common Core Standards. At the same time, West Virginia’s NAEP [National Assessment of Education Progress] scores came back from math testing and unfortunately at that time, West Virginia scored forty-ninth out of the fifty states in math computation on the high school level.”

In response, the West Virginia Department of Education developed the Next Generation Standards, a version of the Common Core Standards.

“They are more rigorous than we’ve ever had before and, of course, we’re in the process of that change,” Rhea said. “With change there’s always a bit of pain and agony, but we can also see a lot of growth.”

The Power Teaching program has also caused some growing pains, but Rhea said the students have shown improvements and are slowly embracing the new math.

“At this point, sixth graders have not touched a calculator yet and we’re thirteen weeks into school,” she said. “Their computational skills, it’s amazing the changes that we’re seeing when they have to do it not relying on a calculator. Seventh grade, we’ve been using calculators for about the last two weeks because we’ve past all the number sense part and we’re more into the higher level computation. We’re using them on a limited basis and eighth grade is also.”

The new program has changed the classroom from a lecture hall into a room of collaboration and communication. The teachers introduce the lesson and then the students break into groups to solve the problems at hand.

“It is totally different from the way you and I learned,” Rhea said. “The students are no longer sitting in straight rows with us teaching in front and them doing everything on paper. It’s all based on a teamwork aspect. We do still teach, but then the students teach each other when they get into their teams.”

Sixth grade teacher Cammy Kiner said the lessons have six major components the students do each day. The components split the class time up and have the students doing math, but using other elements of their education including grammar, sentence structure and public speaking.

“When they answer the question, they have to give the correct answer, but they also have to use good, complete sentences, reference the question and explain to get the hundred percent for their random reporter grade,” Kiner said. “At the beginning of the year, you would have some seventies and eighties. Now I’m doing nineties and hundreds all the time.”

Rhea added that along with classroom participation, the students’ scores are improving.

“At the end of the first nine weeks, we did Benchmark testing with the new program,” she said. “Last week when Joanna was here, she sat down and compared the seventh grade scores on that Benchmark test with the seventh grade Westest scores from the end of last year. They were almost identical. They had progress at the nine weeks period compared to the whole year last year.”

The teachers are able to collaborate more with the new program and even visit each other’s classes to see Power Teaching in motion.

“This is my first year teaching and so it’s really cool to be starting out, but even more so starting out with something that’s new, and to have the support with these ladies where we’re able to collaborate and work together,” eighth grade teacher Stephanie Workman said.

Kiner said she enjoys visiting her colleagues classrooms to get ideas for teaching her own class.

“We’ve been able to visit each other’s classrooms and, I believe as educators, the best teachers are the ones that can study somebody else and make it their own,” Kiner said. “I’ve been able to go and observe in Mrs. Rhea’s class. I’ve been able to go and observe in Mrs. Workman’s class. They’ve come to my class and we meet, and discuss our observations and what we really liked.”

Workman agrees that the program has caused some issues because it is different, but she is also seeing her students succeed.

“We’re asking them to do really hard things, but it’s for a really good reason with a really strong research base supporting what we’re doing,” she said. “I think we’re seeing really great things and we’re really excited to see what happens as we continue.”

The next board meeting is Monday, December 16, at 7 p.m. in the board of education conference room.

Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at sastewart@pocahontastimes.com

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