Pocahontas County Teachers Changing The Way Math Is Taught In County
Marlinton, WV – The Pocahontas County Board of Education got a glimpse of future of math education in county schools at their meeting Monday night. Joanna Burt-Kinderman, a county math coach, showed the board a new way of thinking and teaching the sometimes confusing concepts of mathematics; teaching kids how to truly problem solve rather than just repeating rote learning.
“What I’m really invested in is [a] Japanese lesson study as a model of Job Embedded Professional Development,” says Joanna Burt-Kinderman. “And that kind means we’re not coming out of our classrooms to learn about being a better teacher,” she says. “We’re doing that right inside our classrooms starting right from where we are; so it necessarily looks different for each person.”
She says this is different in that teachers aren’t sent to an offsite seminar to learn all kinds of wonderful skills that they then have trouble actually applying in the classroom. And she says this model is getting more attention both in the state and nationally.
“We’re trying to focus on big mathematical ideas that transcend any particular grade level or time,” she says. “And I’ve been working with teachers to develop projects based on something that their kids don’t understand well or that we can’t really figure out why they’re not retaining. We need to stop teaching kids how to do things, and start enabling their minds to think about why things work the way they do.”
Burt-Kinderman says she and county math teachers working together have already created four master lessons on teaching different math concepts. Each lesson plan involved at least three teachers in some role, and their evaluated by both the teachers and the students. In fact, she and one of the teachers will present this alternative method of teaching at a West Virginia Children’s Trust Fund conference next month.
The comments from students and teachers have been primarily positive. Teachers like the thought and planning that goes into the lessons and that it helps them to see concepts differently. Kids comments indicate they are engaged and want to know more – at least one student saying they didn’t feel like falling asleep during class. Burt-Kinderman says there’s a pressing need to rethink the traditional teaching methods, especially in math.
“I think it really matters what your upper echelon of kids can do,” she says, “because they’re the people who are going to be your scientists, your engineers and your programmers. In the international community, the countries that are leading the world, and it’s a global economy, so they’re getting the jobs, 40 percent of their eighth graders are proficient at an advanced level of mathematics and we are proficient for 8 percent of our eighth graders.”
She says what’s even more alarming is that of the 11 states monitored in the 2011 US Dept of Education’s 12th grade National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP], West Virginia ranks last, with only 12 percent of West Virginia students meeting the proficient standard on the test. Burt-Kinderman says this is a wakeup call.
“So not only are we asking math teachers to shift the way they are dealing in the classroom, we’re also asking them to make a significant shift in how they understand mathematics at all,” says Burt-Kinderman. “You really can’t just deal with what you’re teaching without really having a good reach to where it came from and a good reach to where it’s going.”
Like her fellow board members, Jan McNeel was very impressed with the presentation.
“I just think this is one of the most exciting things that I’ve seen, just to sit here and listen to you I feel how fortunate we are and I have just this sense of thrill that this is happening here,” she says. “No question about it we will be a shining star in the state.”
Burt-Kinderman emphasizes this is also a work in progress; the classes implemented next year may look very different in five years, but she feels they are on the right path.