2021 Education Magazine

Local educators creating practical math
By Nila Smith

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[February 27, 2021]  If you are a parent or teacher you have probably heard lament over a troublesome math problem, “What good is this ever going to do me? When am I ever going to need to know this?” The grievance summarily gets dismissed by the adult who says, “You will use math every day of your life.”

And while it is true math is used daily, generations of youth have struggled with their studies.

What if there was a different approach that made math practical, and even like they say of an antacid, relieves suffering?

For the last two-plus years, with the Regional Office of Education (ROE) # 17, Math Instructional Coach Janet Moore, has been working with teachers at Chester-East Lincoln to build an ‘inquiry-based learning’ Math curriculum.

ROE #17 serves DeWitt, Livingston, Logan and McLean Counties. Moore explains her role this way: “I provide professional development and classroom support for teachers. Sometimes, this means providing training on research-based practices that have proven to be effective for mathematics learning.

The new math curriculum finds its seat in real world experiences. Moore explains, “We give students scenarios and tasks that allow them to explore and develop intuition about a mathematical concept before we introduce the formal mathematics.

“When students are able to make sense of a mathematical concept by grappling with it in a hands-on way, their knowledge about the concept is more meaningful and longer-lasting.

“The class does not use pre-published standardized text books. Moore noted that many of the text books that are commercially available do not “truly align to the Illinois Learning Standards.”

Working with CEL teachers Moore developed new lesson plans that give students the tools they need. She explained why this approach is better for teachers and students, “Rather than drawing from just one publisher, it is a compilation of high-quality teaching resources that come from a variety of sources. It is also a ‘living’ collection that is continually being added to and updated.

“This curriculum is designed to support highly-responsive teaching. Rather than trying to write a script for teachers to follow, we challenge teachers to engage with their students, find out what the students need to further their learning, and then choose tasks that will support their student’s needs.

“This curriculum is also highly collaborative. Historically, American classrooms are relatively isolated places where teachers work and plan their lessons alone. The teachers who have been contributing to and using these resources have developed a professional development community where they regularly brainstorm, ask questions, troubleshoot challenges, and plan lessons together.”

With this approach teachers weed out what is not useful and embrace what they believe will be the best to teach students in their individual classrooms and grade levels. Moore referred to the curriculum as a ‘buffet’ of choices each teacher can use to personalize the classroom experience.

“The ROE Math Curriculum is not a textbook,” said Moore. “Rather, it is a collection of high-quality lessons, tasks, and resources that are organized into units at each grade level.

“In each unit, the class engages in an “Opening Exploratory” activity that serves as a kickoff for the major concepts in that unit. As students work on the Opening Exploratory task and engage with the mathematical concepts the teacher can pull other resources from the ‘buffet’ in order to support and challenge each student appropriately.”

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As part of the process, Moore has been making regular visits to Chester-East Lincoln spending time in workshops as well as in the classrooms with the teachers.

CEL Superintendent and Principal Laura Irwin said, “Our teachers work with her (Moore) monthly on the curriculum and she comes to CEL as well to observe, model, provide feedback, etc. She is a math champion!”

Moore noted that the time spent at CEL is a great opportunity to see the work in process, using the time as research for what is working and what isn’t, and utilizing the opinions of the teachers to fine tune the curriculum.

“Figuring out how to teach math in a more meaningful way is a learning process for the teachers just as much as it is for the students. During my classroom visits, I try to support the teachers as they continue in their own learning progression,” said Moore.

Moore says, “It is an absolute delight to work with the teachers at CEL. They are a group of dedicated professionals who are excited to learn and grow themselves as they explore the best ways to teach their students. They have contributed so much to the program, not only in the form of helping to compile and organize curriculum resources, but also as they try these lessons and strategies in their classrooms and get creative to build upon them.”

The new curriculum is being utilized in all grade levels at CEL starting in kindergarten. It is the intention that the inquiry-based learning method will serve all these young people well not only as they enter high school and college, but also as they go into their professional careers.

You do use math every day, whether understanding square footage, volume, pounds per square inch, miles and distance rates, fuel use, converting recipe measurements or even understanding why the joke “pie are square” is funny, πr2.
For now, the ROE and CEL are off to a good start and Moore is happy that she chose to start with the little school in Lincoln. She said, “I absolutely adore working with everyone at CEL. The school truly operates as a large family, and I sincerely appreciate the way that everyone works together to foster a positive environment where everyone knows they are valued and appreciated.”

[Nila Smith]

Read all the articles in our new
2021 Education Magazine

Educating in a most challenging year 4
A preschool that is exciting, educational and engaging 5
Local educators creating practical math 6
The efficacy of remote learning 9
Differences in college education during the pandemic 13
Changing the social dynamics of education 19
School resource officer makes positive impact 24
What's a dog doing in school? 26
Academics and meaningful lessons blended 31
The return of school sports 35
Logan County School profiles 38


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