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Math Solutions Case Study: Inspitring Teachers to Reach Beyond State Standards

Cynthia Stone and Sandra Garza worked together at Socorro Independent School District (SISD) in El Paso, Texas. Cynthia and Sandra were the district’s Mathematics and Science Mentors under a grant from National Science Foundation and then became Instruction Specialists for the district. Both shared common goals and an interest in providing teachers with the support they needed to better understand and teach mathematics. “We weren’t happy with the scores we were seeing, or with students’ attitudes toward learning math,” Cynthia explained. She and Sandra were already familiar with Math Solutions and subscribed to the same fundamental approach to teaching mathematics. “We were looking for a partner that would help us with whatever math program we adopted.” Sandra confirmed, “We did some research and found that we just clicked with Math Solutions, we liked their philosophy and the way their programs align with the NCTM standards. The more we learned, the more we knew they were the right fit for us.”

“We . . . found that we just clicked with Math Solutions, we liked their philosophy and the way their programs align with the NCTM standards.”

Sandra Garza, Instruction Specialist
Socorro Independent School District

“In time, we started recruiting mentors from our campuses and from the district to come with us to attend courses offered by Math Solutions. We also brought several of the Math Solutions books and resources into the district and began using lessons and strategies to share with teachers and use in classrooms.“Eventually the district said, ‘bring them in here.’ So we did.”

Professional Development for Teachers

In June 2004, Cynthia and Sandra invited teachers throughout the district to attend the five-day Math Solutions course About Teaching Mathematics I. Sandra said, “We were very happy with the results. Math Solutions courses help teachers appreciate math with a more hands-on approach to learning concepts. Teachers learn ways to incorporate as many curricular areas as possible, such as literature, writing, and communication. Children make deeper connections when they are able to formulate and explain their reasoning and thinking about math and the problem-solving strategies they have applied. It’s a well-rounded approach to teaching elementary mathematics.

“One special education instructor came up to me after the course. She and I have worked together for seven years, and she confided that approaching math in the Math Solutions format ‘finally makes sense’ to her. She told me that she sees math in a whole new light now. And that she finally understands the importance of providing hands-on experiences for students—and how they are better able to put math into perspective through real-world applications.

“Math Solutions courses help teachers appreciate math with a more hands-on approach to learning concepts.”

Sandra Garza, Instruction Specialist
Socorro Independent School District

“The summer was so successful that we brought Math Solutions back the following spring (2005) to teach the About Teaching Mathematics I course again and to offer About Teaching Mathematics II.” In August 2004, two months after the partnership began, Cynthia assumed the position of assistant principal at Elfida Chavez Elementary. Upon her arrival, she was delighted to find that more than half the teachers there had already attended the summer About Teaching Mathematics I course. “It just happened . . . more teachers from my school had attended than from anywhere else in the district. It was like my work had already been done for me,” Cynthia explained. “They knew that I knew what I was talking about, and I could see that they were already incorporating hands-on activities into their lessons, and that their students were learning and understanding concepts, rather than memorizing formulas.”

Cynthia continued, “Since offering these courses, I can already see the effects. Teachers are gaining confidence and they’re feeling much more comfortable reaching beyond the state standards. . . . They’re moving away from the workbooks and moving toward Math Solutions resources for engaging lessons as they prepare their nine-week Scope and Sequence plans.”

“Since offering these courses, I can already see the effects. Teachers are gaining confidence and they’re feeling much more comfortable reaching beyond the state standards.”

Cynthia Stone, Assistant Principal
Elfida Chavez Elementary

“We have a full-time curriculum coach at our school and she also works a lot with Math Solutions publications. Overall, there’s more hands-on activities, and a lot more students learning conceptually.”

Seeing Results

“Judging from our TAKS [Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills] scores, we’ve done very well,” Cynthia explained. “Our students have demonstrated a marked improvement; we are now one of just two schools in the district that have received state recognition, by the Texas Education Agency [TEA], for test score achievement. The tests are harder now. Yet in spite of that, the kids did very well. We are definitely headed in the right direction.”

“Since working with Math Solutions, our TAKS scores have gone up; we are now one of two schools in the district that are state recognized for achievement.”

Cynthia Stone, Assistant Principal
Elfida Chavez Elementary School

Sandra agreed, “Right now, we’re living in a world of accountability; we have to increase our content knowledge. Compared to the inservice we have offered in the past, the depth of learning and the level of discussions going on have definitely changed. Math Solutions courses are nonthreatening, and teachers are very receptive to this. There’s an openness in the classroom—teachers are hungry to learn more and to have the Math Solutions publications for future reference throughout the year.”

Sustaining Long-Term Improvement

“And this is just the beginning,” Sandra added. “In August, we had a Math Solutions administrator session, where we brought together principals and curriculum coaches to kick off our mathematics professional development plan for the school year. After that, we scheduled six sessions for coaches from 26 campuses throughout the year. Each session focuses on specific content skills and understandings developed during each nine-week period in our district’s Scope and Sequence.”

“Two of these sessions are already under way, and the feedback is great. Coaches tell me they are finally seeing the connections between strands, the grade levels, and particularly, the vertical alignment. Now they understand why it is we do what we do, why we need to teach certain concepts in the earlier grades, so that we keep the thread of knowledge running through every ensuing grade.”

Sandra continued, “It’s critical that students carry the concepts and themes with them from year to year. That is why it is so important for teachers and coaches alike to go deeper with their instruction . . . because students need to build upon these early teaching experiences to be more successful in the coming years.”

“Math Solutions gives teachers and coaches the strategies they need to differentiate their instruction. . . . We’re glad we were able to find a partner who could do this with us. We’ve just completed our first nine-week Scope and Sequence session, and already coaches and teachers are applying many of the strategies from that session in their classrooms.”

“At the teacher level,” Sandra explained, “we are bringing back About Teaching Mathematics I as a yearlong course where teachers can attend the session over five Saturdays spread throughout the school year. In this district with a year-round calendar, this offers teachers a flexible option that won’t conflict with their classroom schedules.

“We’ve learned that a ‘one-shot’ approach to professional development doesn’t work; it offers little consistency and little to build upon. By continuing with these sessions throughout the year, we see teachers revisiting key topics and beginning to make strong connections.”

A Solution That Works

“Math Solutions designs and offers courses that are so in line with our philosophy and our mindset. Their instructors are highly accomplished, and it feels good knowing that they are classroom teachers, too. They are so good at what they do,” said Cynthia.
She continued, “It’s remarkable and yet fairly predictable at this point. . . . Teachers come into the About Teaching Mathematics I course, even those who didn’t want to come, and by the third day, they’re saying, ‘Oh my, this is so wonderful!’

“We’re definitely going about it the right way this time. We see our partnership with Math Solutions as long-term; they are helping us move in a direction we want to be.”