District Case Study

left arrow All District Case Studies 

Math Solutions Case Study: Instructional Strategies and Foundational Content

District Profile

  • nearly 42,000 students
  • the percentage of students scoring 85 and higher increased from 44 percent to 49 percent

Houston, Texas

Math Solutions has provided inservice programs, including summer five-day courses, introductory one-day sessions, on-site technical support, and sessions focusing on using manipulatives, in Alief Independent School District. This suburban southwest Houston school district serves nearly 42,000 students. The district’s teachers use a number of Math Solutions Professional Development resources, including books and videotapes, to support their classroom math instruction.The impact of the district’s focus on improving math instruction is evident in student test scores on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills. From 2001 to 2002, the percentage of students meeting the minimum expectations increased from 85 to 88 percent. Further, the percentage of students scoring 85 and higher increased from 44 percent to 49 percent.

In summer 2003, Dr. Holly MacLean, then the district’s Coordinator of Elementary Mathematics, brought the course Building a Foundation for Algebra (K–8) to the district’s teachers.

Holly had hoped that the teachers would become more familiar and comfortable with using the term algebra, especially in the primary years of mathematics. While they had been teaching the concepts, skills, and content that fall within the algebra strand of mathematics, Holly stated that they had not thought of these instructional practices as being part of the foundation for higher-level algebra. Holly admitted, “Many of our primary teachers were surprised and pleased to learn that the content was relevant and appropriate for use at their grade levels. In fact, the content is called for, both in the national standards and in our state’s prescribed essential knowledge and skills.”

“After the first two days of the five-day course, I had teachers reporting to me about how exciting their sessions were, in that the instructional strategies helped them see the link between instruction in algebraic thinking and arithmetic.”

Dr. Holly MacLean
Former District Coordinator of Elementary Mathematics
Alief Independent School District

The teachers who provided Holly with feedback expressed excitement about the insights and knowledge that they had gained. Many teachers said the course revitalized their teaching just as About Teaching Mathematics I had. Holly shared, “After the first two days of the five–day course, I had teachers reporting to me about how exciting their sessions were, in that the instructional strategies helped them see the link between instruction in algebraic thinking and arithmetic. They all were extremely positive about their experiences within the sessions. Even master teachers from our district who were attending this course reported that they were finding it extremely refreshing and important to their work with classroom teachers.”Also, several building principals shared news that their teachers immediately incorporated course lessons into their summer–school mathematics program. The principals indicated that these teachers came to recognize the importance of having both arithmetic and algebra as integral components of their mathematics instruction.

Holly reflected, “When elementary teachers think of algebra, they tend to reflect upon their own experiences in high school. Initially, it is difficult to imagine what the context of algebra instruction in the elementary (and most especially in the primary) grades would look like. This five–day course effectively supports teachers in developing awareness of algebra’s role in the early grades, and of the vertical alignment of the concepts, content, and knowledge that are interwoven into the algebra strand.”

Alief clearly has made a commitment to supporting teachers with professional development. The district has continued to build capacity for strengthened instruction by hosting five–day courses in 2004. About Teaching Mathematics I and Building a Foundation for Algebra were offered in the summer of 2005, following several all-day teacher sessions in the spring.