Research has shown that there should be more emphasis on math — especially when teaching fractions, multiplicative reasoning and proportionality — with a focus on third through eighth grade. This is not just countywide, but it’s also state- and nationwide. Jean Lollar, assistant superintendent of Jasper City schools, said 50 teachers from county and city schools participated in the training sessions, which will take place at T.R. Simmons through Thursday.
“Over the past several years we have noticed that our data is showing that we need to focus more on fractions, common fractions and decimal points, and based on that we were able to secure this training through AMSTI, which is the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative,” Lollar said. “Our in-service center is UNA; Shannon Uptain [AMSTI director], he and AMSTI have been a part of this research. It’s a focus on fractions. It’s a different way to look at how to teach fractions.”
Teachers will use this training, take it back to their elementary schools and implement it into their lessons. Memorial Park Elementary principal Ann Jackson and T.R. Simmons principal Suzanne Snow complimented the instructors and talked about the advantage the training will have in the classroom.
“It’s very evident that the presenters are very knowledgeable about the subject matter and have spent a lot of time researching and presenting this model,” Jackson said. “... It’s based on formative assessment, where teachers know if the students are getting it. There’s immediate feedback and dialogue between the teachers and students.”
“It’s allowing teachers to see the varied ways of implementing visually and discussing it with children and creating communication between teachers and students,” Snow added.
The two instructors that presented the training Monday were Marge Petit and her daughter Elizabeth “Liz” Cunningham. Petit is an independent educational consultant focusing on mathematics instruction and assessment.
She has 23 years of experience in the classroom as a teacher, primarily in math and science, and two decades of research and development in standards-based restructuring efforts at the classroom, district, state and national levels.
Cunningham is a doctoral candidate at the University of Nebraska. She is currently a research assistant and instructor for Primarily Math, an NSF- and MSP-funded project that provides professional development for in-service K-3 teachers. Cunningham has a decade of experience in the classroom as a teacher in math and science.
“We’re doing training on a project called the Ongoing Assessment Project, which is based on the math education research on how kids learn mathematics. We’re particularly focusing on fractions,” Petit said. “What teachers are learning is what the research tells us about how kids learn and how that helps us understand the evidence in student work and in discussions that help them make instructional changes. They’re trying to be better understanders of the evidence that can inform instruction.”
More importantly, Petit said that as a unit in math progresses, teachers will give students an exit card, which may have a question or two about that day’s particular lesson allowing teachers to see what their students are or aren’t understanding. That feedback will let teachers know what they need to do to adjust their lesson for the next day.
“It’s not like we just care about how they did in the beginning and the end, but the idea is you don’t want to get to the end and find out that they don’t know what you wanted them to know,” Petit said. “If you’re probing constantly as the unit is progressing, then you’re adjusting constantly. ... You’re gathering the evidence as you go.”
Petit also stated that fractions are a key factor in math because high school teachers are saying, “it’s a major barrier to kids not being able to be successful in algebra, their lack of fraction knowledge.” The project has been working with schools in Alabama since 2007, mostly in Mobile, Hoover and Decatur.
Joined by AMSTI leaders Rebecca Darby and Vicki Howard, Petit said it’s a collaborative effort between the three groups.
“It’s not just about the training today, it’s the ongoing support provided by the AMSTI team,” Petit said. “It’s a real partnership between the schools, our project and AMSTI.”
Darby added that the training “does so much to deepen the teachers’ content knowledge, their understanding.”
Megan Keeton, a third-grade teacher at Lupton Jr. High, said the training was very informative and will help her to develop instruction in the classroom.
“First, we started out talking about pre-assessments and post-assessments and how those types of things will help us to engage our students in our instruction, and then we went on and talked about different instructional strategies that we can use while we’re teaching fractions with our students and the different types of activities that we can do with them,” Keeton said. “With the AMSTI training, it really teaches us how to teach in a variety of different ways ... Now, I do see where there are problems, but now I can take those problems that I see and I have just a wide range of strategies to use with the students to help them work through their problems.”