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Let’s Talk About Math: 2019 Mathematics Teacher Academy Focused on Mathematical Discourse in the Classroom [07/15/2019]


2019 Mathematics Teacher Academy

Baylor School of Education’s Mathematics Teacher Academy (MTA) gathered over 50 Texas secondary and middle school teachers on June 25-27 to talk about . . . talking about math. This year’s theme was “mathematical discourse,” the conversation about mathematics in the classroom that empowers student learning.

MTA, now in its third year, included nationally known speakers and hands-on workshops, enabling the professional educators to share discourse-based planning and instruction techniques. Dr. Trena Wilkerson and Dr. Rachelle Rogers, faculty in Baylor SOE’s Department of Curriculum & Instruction, co-chaired MTA.

SOE faculty, including Dr. Doug Rogers, taught several MTA sessions.

“Supporting mathematical discourse in a learning environment supports the skills needed to be successful,” Rogers said. “Mathematical discourse allows students to engage in critical thinking by analyzing the work of others, communicating ideas, arguments, and justifications, and reflecting on their own conceptual understandings. Society wants graduates who are critical thinkers, are able to collaborate and communicate, and are problem-solvers.”

Day one of the conference featured guest speaker Dr. Christa Jackson, associate professor at Iowa State and president-elect of the School Science and Mathematics Association. She said that educators can deepen mathematical discourse by creating lesson plans with open-ended learning tasks that have multiple entry points so every student is engaged without the pressure of one right answer. Jackson recommends planning equitably by considering the “How, What, and Who” of each activity. “How” considers how the environment and task will be structured to encourage all students; “What” determines the task’s content, standards, range, and relevant connections; “Who” asks how every voice in the classroom will be heard and valued.

“We need to provide opportunities to value each student’s voice, whether it is off base or not,” Jackson said. “We are setting up an environment in which we are purposely recognizing various contributions made by the students…so students can be unafraid to take risks in the classroom.”

The next morning was dedicated to the “Formative 5,” techniques for promoting student success, presented by leaders of the Elementary Mathematics Specialists & Teacher Leadership Project. Project director Francis (Skip) Fennell and colleague Jon Wray said the “Formative 5” comprises intentional observations of students as they work, brief interviews with students to deepen what was observed, performance-based responses, hinge questions that check necessary understanding, and exit tasks that act as a capstone of the lesson.

Fennell said, “Regularly used classroom formative assessment can raise standard achievement by four-tenths to seven-tenths of a standard deviation, which is significant enough to raise the U.S. into the top five countries in international studies. The notion of understanding this can, in fact, make a very real difference.”

To build upon Jackson and Fennell’s techniques, MTA extended the experience in the afternoon with Baylor faculty, SOE graduate students, alumni, and local teachers leading the academy through open-ended mathematics activities they can take back to their classroom. The participants also spent time coding, practicing data collection, and exploring, a website that provides educational graphing activities.

A fifth-grade teacher at Lake Air Montessori Magnet School, Natalia Tallas said that the MTA experience provided her with concepts and resources applicable to the Montessori environment in which she teaches, even though most participants teach in a traditional classroom.

“These concepts have a lot to do with activity and movement that I’m used to,” Tallas said. “But the tasks that have multiple entry points, so every student has the chance for their own right answer, are something specific and different I’ll use in the future.”

MTA participants left with an action plan developed during the conference that they will implement in their classrooms when the 2019-2020 school year begins. In fall and spring, Rogers and Wilkerson will check back in with each teacher, provide feedback, and arrange additional resources so they can further raise expectations for student learning and improve their mathematics classroom culture.

—By Cameron Bocanegra

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For more than 100 years Baylor educators have carried the mission and practices of the School of Education to classrooms and beyond as teachers, superintendents, psychologists, health education professionals, academics/scholars and more. With more than 50 full-time faculty members, the school’s growing research portfolio complements its long-standing commitment to excellence in teaching and student mentoring. Baylor’s undergraduate program in teacher education has earned national distinction for innovative partnerships with local schools that provide future teachers deep clinical preparation, while graduate programs culminating in both the Ed.D. and Ph.D. prepare outstanding leaders, teachers and clinicians through an intentional blend of theory and practice.

Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.

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