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Math Solutions Case Study: Embracing Cooperative Learning Techniques

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Taft Middle School belongs to one of the largest districts in CA

3 years of continued support, from 2001-2003

 

 

San Diego, California

San Diego City Schools is the second largest school district in California and the eighth largest nationwide. Math Solutions began working with administrators and teachers in spring 2000. A school-year and summer inservice partnership has continued, and the results are encouraging. Districtwide, student scores on the STAR California Standards Test reveal that the number of students scoring in the “advanced” category increased by nearly three percent from 2002 to 2003. For this same period, the percentage of students who scored “below basic” dropped by two percent. Students in grades two through four showed the most significant increases in the percentages of students scoring at the “advanced” level. And, at grades six through eight, scores at the “proficient” and “advanced” levels demonstrated overall improvement.The principal at Taft Middle School requested an additional school-based project, which began in 2001 and continued through 2003. The Taft project set goals of raising student achievement and increasing students’ interest in and appreciation of mathematics. The initial component included sessions by a Math Solutions education specialist focusing on problem solving, building teachers’ knowledge of mathematics, and modeling effective instruction. The second component included demonstration lessons taught by the education specialist in teachers’ own classrooms, focusing on problem solving, the use of manipulatives, and cooperative learning techniques. The final component included observations of Taft’s math teachers by the education specialist, with opportunities to debrief and discuss their lessons.

Barbra Balser, Taft’s Principal, told us about some of the positive changes that have taken place since the project started. Prior to their work with Math Solutions, grades seven and eight teachers were highly skeptical that seventh- and eighth-grade students could be grouped together. During the school year, however, teachers overcame this skepticism as the multigrade students began working together successfully and enthusiastically on problem-solving activities.
Barbra also noted that before 2001, the teachers were using primarily traditional approaches to teaching math. Now, however, they’re using manipulatives such as algebra tiles to help students understand concepts. Barbra reported, “As a result of our work with Math Solutions, I’ve witnessed positive changes in instruction. More teachers are willing to take risks, and to stray from their traditional instructional approaches, to aid students’ grasp of concepts and engage them in the learning activities.”

“As a result of our work with Math Solutions, I’ve witnessed positive changes in instruction. More teachers are willing to take risks, and to stray from their traditional instructional approaches, to aid students’ grasp of concepts and engage them in the learning activities.”

Barbra knows that professional development sessions can’t stand alone, that they require a great deal of support, and that teachers should not be “left hanging.” Fortunately, Taft employs a vice principal who maintains as a goal the improvement of math instruction. He was able to guide teachers’ practice between sessions.