Common-Sense Approaches to Math Curriculum and Assessment Success

Webinar Date: April 22,2014

Webinar Description

Learn how to equip educators and students for success at a time when schools are being asked to do more with less—while meeting new math standards. Practical considerations and strategies will be addressed by our panel of math experts, who will discuss important topics in mathematics education and field audience questions throughout the session. They’ll share insights about current trends and issues in mathematics education related to curriculum, assessment, and instruction that are applicable in all states and schools. Join the conversation as they take a bird’s eye view while also sharing on-the-ground classroom strategies and ideas for supporting increased achievement for all students. Key discussion topics include:

  • Current trends and issues in math curriculum and instruction
  • Formative and Summative Assessments
  • Strategies to support achievement for all student populations

Webinar Presenters

  • Francis (Skip) Fennell - Professor at McDaniel College, Maryland
  • Joanna Bannon - Assistant Coordinator of K-12 Instructional Services at West Allis-West Milwaukee School District, Wisconsin

View Transcription

Tim: Hello everyone and welcome to today’s webinar, “Common-Sense Approaches to Math Curriculum and Assessment Success.” My name is Tim Hudson and I’ll be moderating the panel and webinar today. I’m the Senior Director of Curriculum Design at DreamBox Learning and I spent over 10 years in public schools as a high school math teacher and K–12 math coordinator. Our team at DreamBox Learning is sponsoring today’s webinar. DreamBox offers a rigorous pre-K through Grade 6 mathematics program that empowers students to think mathematically. Built on our unique, intelligent adaptive learning platform, DreamBox lessons fully differentiate for each student in real time no matter where they are in their learning in order to complement classroom teachers and support schools using innovative technologies and blended learning model.

I’ll share more about it at the end, including information about the release of our middle school and algebra math lessons this fall. It’s always an interesting time in the world of mathematics education but for many reasons, it seems as though we’re in uniquely unprecedented times. And today, we’ll discuss how to equip educators and students for success in these times when schools are being asked to do so much more with so much less, all while meeting new math standards in many cases. So, we hope you’ll join the conversation using the question box and the chat box.

As we take a bird’s-eye view of these issues, while also sharing on the ground classroom strategies and ideas for supporting increased achievement for all students. We’ll discuss current trends and issues in math curriculum and instruction, formative and summative assessments, and strategies to support achievement for all students. Today, I’m joined by Francis “Skip” Fennel, professor of education at McDaniel College in Maryland and past president of the National Council of Teachers of Math and the Association of Math Teacher Educators. Skip directs the Elementary Mathematics Specialists and Teacher Leaders Projects supported by the Brookhill Foundation. Skip is a mathematics educator who has experience as a classroom teacher, principal, and supervisor of instruction. He has played key leadership roles in several organizations and received the 2012 lifetime achievement award from NTTM.

He served as a writer for the principles and standards for school mathematics, the curriculum focal points and the Common Core State Standards. He’s also serving as a math advisor for the PBS television show Peg + Cat and the soon to be released Odd Squad.

We’ll also be joined a little later by Joanna Bannon, Assistant Coordinator of K–12 Instructional Services with the West Allis–West Milwaukee School District which serves 11,000 students in an urban community located just outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Joanna has spent the past nine years in the West Allis School District first as an elementary teacher, then an instructional coach. As a member of the Administrative Instructional Services team, Joanna’s primary role is to improve instructional practice and student achievement in math as well as coordinate RtI implementation. Her team has been recognized at the national and state level for their work in personalizing learning for all students.

Now before we begin, let me remind you of a couple of things, first of all there are some icons at the bottom of your screen, including a detailed audio troubleshooting file in the hands out folder in case you were having some audio difficulties. There are some other icons there to open additional features in our webinar console. You can read about today’s speakers in the bio panel or click the handouts panel to download a copy of today’s slides, so you don’t necessarily have to be taking any feverish notes.

For joining us today, you will also receive a white paper offered by Skip Fennel. An on-demand archive of today’s webinar will be available online in the next 24 hours. Both the archive and the free-to-download version of the PowerPoint slide will be accessible through

Finally, for those of you out there who would like to engage in a little Twitter during the webinar, please use the hashtag #edweekmath. So, without further ado, let’s get started. So, the first part of our presentation today is going to be a conversation with Skip Fennel and myself, talking through several issues. We’ll go through some slides. Skip will share his perspective and his deep expertise and we’ll try to incorporate some questions as we move forward.

As Skip and I were talking about this topic and where we’re at right now in math education, we both kind of felt that it’s important to discuss perspectives on math education regardless of where you live. Every place has standards, many places with a Common Core but a lot of other standard documents out there and things that teachers are working toward. So, we wanted to talk at sort of a bird’s-eye view about things that are impacting every math educator everywhere. So, Skip, welcome today.

Skip: Hey Tim, welcome, and for those of you on the line as well, welcome, and let’s get started. What we thought we would do is really get at a number of, if you will, topical issues that many of you are facing day-to-day. Certainly one of them is mathematics curriculum and instruction and that’s kind of going to be our first foray into this and then kind of connecting that to formative and summative assessment demands which you’re facing, consideration strategies to support achievement in mathematics for all student populations, and then the challenges relative to the emergence and dealing with leveraging of technological tools of virtually every stripe.

So, as we move forward, some of the things that you have to deal with in terms of your own curricular efforts is what mathematics content, in other words the content that’s important for children as they engage in and learn mathematics and not only from the perspective of if you will, what’s going to happen with kids, but ensuring that classroom teachers have a deep understanding of that work themselves, which particularly as we move into the implementation of the common core is a challenge and particular content topic areas, which students, certainly, we want to ensure a mathematical opportunity for all students every day. What are we doing, how are we considering students who need some form of intervention? What are the opportunities for children who have one or perhaps additional levels of special education services provided and so forth.

Timing has always been an issue for anybody involved in education and by the way that means there’s not enough of it and how I find time for instance to provide the sort of intervention that I was responding to earlier and how do I find time to truly challenge my most talented students, how do I find time to really engage my kids, my class in using appropriately the number line as I think about representing fractions and so forth. Some variables around that are critical issues as well. And you know then what am I looking for? What am I assessing? How does that tie into the plan that I’m crafting and will implement tomorrow, what are my formative assessment opportunities, how am I doing that, when so I layer that in and the like, all of these sort of important issues that if you will, bubble up every day as we think about planning for and delivery of instruction.

So, that’s kind of where we’re going and by the way, it’s great to see a really great mix of if you will a geography of this country and beyond on this webinar. So, thank you very much, this clearly is an important topic for you as well and I’m noticing a number of questions, so hopefully that’s connecting with some of the things you do. As I do work myself in professional development particularly for teachers and also at the pre-service level, one of the things that is really important to me relative to the Common Core State Standards if you will is not only the mathematics, but how that mathematics is engaged and to me that’s the standard for mathematical practice and to me, this picture sums up how I feel and how I would like children, whether it’s frankly my nine grandchildren or kids that you encounter on a daily basis to feel about doing mathematics.

And you’ll note the caption there, doing the math is rolling sleeves up, but yes, getting dirty, getting into it but it’s all good. In other words, we want kids to be involved in doing mathematics and it’s really important that the doing mathematics part, whether it’s problem solving or reasoning or using tools or looking at particular elements of precision. All of those eight practices come to the forefront as we think about engaging kids, and so that’s something that is really important to me. As I sort of think about moving forward here, Tim, any thoughts so far about what I’ve presented?

Tim: No, I think you’re definitely right that it as a very complicated as a math coordinator trying to rework curriculum in Missouri when the standards were making some adjustments and trying to select materials and leverage technology. It is a complicated thing. In a little bit I will be referencing a Michael Fullen report from last July called “Alive in the Swamp,” and it looks like that’s where this young man’s been playing, in the field.

Skip: So let’s move to sort of a related challenge and that’s monitoring progress. So, one of the things we want to think about is if you will, elements of how we monitor progress, considering students as they progress toward understanding and proficiency with important content, whether it be—those things called fractions or opportunities in geometry or measurement data or what have you. Any of the content areas for which teachers are responsible for.

Student confidence and engagement in mathematics learning is increasing. I mean, one of the things we want to do particularly and again, that all hearkens back to—I don’t want to call it one of my favorite pictures there, the swamp kid as Tim just implied, but that kid really kind of getting into it and that level of confidence, that level of if you will delight and engagement is important to us. And how do we provide a daily record of progress and if you will, guide formative assessment through such a daily record and then targets that we would have, performance on class and school assessments and so forth.

I mean as we monitor progress, this is pretty desirable. We want student confidence to increase. We would want that daily record to be guided by formative assessment. We would want our targets to be performance on class and school assessments, showing and improving, trajectory and so forth. So, that’s kind of where we are but that’s kind of where we’re headed we hope. But let’s think about something that’s really important relative to, if you will, the next step, and that is this notion of implementation of the Common Core State Standards. As you know, 45 states and the District of Columbia are moving forward. Actually, let me restate that. That would be 44 since Indiana last week decided not to do that but of course they are proving their own standards. Boy, they look very similar to the Common Core but that’s for another time and another day.

But I think perhaps the more important thing that I want to think about with regards to this implementation is something that I see on a regular basis. And I’m referring to this as—sort of the differences in disconnects between standards and curriculum. And as I alluded to, I see this every day, I literally saw this on a sign coming back from lunch today about the Common Core State Standards—standards are expectations, they’re targets. They’re sort of if you will the baseline of what we would like kids to be able to do. What curriculum is how school districts and schools and teachers think about a sequence to reach those targets. Think about the related developmental trajectories that are important for kids as they get to if you will proficiency with equivalent fractions. Think about the kind of focus that teachers would place on particular topics within a grade level and frankly, that coherence across grade levels.

So, when people talk about standards being something that’s coming from afar, I don’t think that that could be any further from the truth in a sense that it’s how a school district, a school, and a teacher sort of thinks about reaching that standard or collection of standards in their fourth grade classroom and what that lesson and/or those lessons look like that help to sort of get at reaching the standards, that’s the curriculum. That’s what people do every day and challenges that we have in terms of learning experiences instructions is what that looks like.

Now, quoting a statement from a National Science Foundation research conference that came out in 2011 where the NSF sort of put together some people to say, “Okay, what shall we be doing? What shall we be concerned about relative to implementation of the common core,” and you’ll see two quotes from that report in this slide deck and this is the first one. And here’s the issue, “distinguishing between alignment and quality.” And by that I mean it’s all well and good for your state, whatever that state happens to be. To say that you’re aligning to the Common Core State Standards or frankly, to teach in Texas, or what Nebraska is doing, or the FLOs in Virginia and/or those other states that aren’t doing the Common Core.

It’s all well and good to say that you have accepted those and you’re implementing those but the issue is, how does that really align day-to-day in terms of what your district, schools within your district, and classrooms within your school are actually doing. And this is huge because this is the difference between standards and curriculum because the curriculum really is on the ground in terms of how you’re implementing that. I think that’s a really important distinction between the differences between standards and curriculum and that connects by the way with the next, if you will, slice of where we’re going which is the consortia assessments. And as you know, those include both the Smarter Balanced Assessment, Consortium, and PARC.

But I guess more to the point is sort of this again quote from that research grant that I was referred to a couple of slides ago from Iris Weiss, Heck, and others and that is, the influence of the Common Core State Standards will be strongly mediated by the consortia assessments. And so, how kids frankly do on PARCC and on Smarter Balance and by the way—and let’s be realistic here because as of the 5th of this month, this is sort of where we are and that’s changed even since then. We had then about 15 or more states who frankly were doing something other than PARCC or Smarter Balance. And some of you, I see some people from Pennsylvania in the queue. I’m not 100 percent sure what you’re doing. By the way I’m allowed to laugh as I’m born and raised in Pennsylvania so don’t be mean to me about that statement.

But seriously, other states have decided to do other things and so in my opinion by the way, we’ve lost the potential opportunity to sort of compare kids within PARCC or Smarter states because we now have this third clump of states who were doing something else, sort of thinking about that and matching that up is pretty important in terms of where we’re going with that. Before we sort of move into formative assessment and how that connects back to these larger summative tasks. Let me stop and have Tim jump in here in terms of thinking what we’re doing. Yeah, by the way Pennsylvania is the only state with two colors but I’m not touching that. Tim, what do you think?

Tim: You’re right, Pennsylvania, another conversation for another time I suppose. One question that just came up in the chat, if you clarify, Greyling said by curricula here, are you meaning resources to facilitate delivering it? So, you should talk a little bit more about that clarification.

Skip: Sure. I think that could be the case. I mean one of the things that I say to people right now and I say this without—I’m trying to be about as honest as I possibly can and will also share with those of you—some of you probably know this anyway, I’ve been involved with helping to prepare curriculum materials for close to 30 years in a variety of contexts including a longstanding relationship with DreamBox. So, I would say that one should be wary. I would say that when you begin to think about, okay, this is what we’re thinking about as curriculum in my school district. What sort of resources might we consider? And some of those resources—and Tim will come to this a little bit later on in this presentation; it will probably be online resources, some of those resources may be print material, some of those will perhaps be textbooks, regardless, be wary. In other words, know what your expectations are and be able to seek them out in whatever it is somebody is attempting to sell you.

I share a story that actually occurred a couple years ago when somebody called me and said, “Wow! Such-and-such has come out with a brand new Common Core curriculum.” And I said, “Really?” And they were reading the title page or whatever, I said, “Do me a favor and look to see when it was published.” And this is on the phone, they said, “Well, it was published in 2009.” I said, “Well, that’s interesting because the Common Core didn’t come out until June 2nd of 2010.” So, that’s part of the be wary thing. In some cases, people are changing covers. By the way, particularly I see this online with my own students and the grad students where they’re finding stuff online that alleges to be the Common Core and when you get underneath of it and look at the kinds of lessons and the kind of mathematics, it’s way off task in terms of grade levels and so forth and so on. So, I think I’ve said Tim about as well as I want to say it here.

Tim: I think I would add, too, that in the work of—if you’re familiar with Understanding by Design and some of those curriculum ideas, they talk about how standards, they’re kind of like the building code that Dave and Frankie set up to ensure that the house is safe but you don’t build your house to meet the code. There are tons of different kinds of houses and different ways to accomplish those goals, but setting those standards are the expectations that are right for kids.

Skip: Yup. So, just wander in a little bit to what ought to happen day-to-day as lessons are implemented and that includes connecting in a very direct way formative assessment. And formative assessment has become something that people are talking about a lot. I saw this at the recent NCTM annual conference and exposition in New Orleans and similarly at the NCSM meeting of national council supervisors of math that occurred right prior to that meeting as a particular target area.

And we’ve been doing formative assessment a lot as you can see on this slide. We’ve actually seen the phrase being kicked around for almost 50 years. We also know through a lot of research including some by Dylan William and others that if we do this on a regular basis, it has an impact on student achievement. So, at minimum, considering formative assessment is something that’s important and something that we ought to do. Having said that, we don’t see it being used nearly as much, you see this reference to the work of Glaser and Silver dated 1994, that’s 20 years. Aside from teacher-made classroom tests, the integration assessment learning is an interacting system and it has to be. It’s important that we kind of connect to that and it hasn’t been explored to the extent that it certainly could be and that’s important for all of us to consider.

And yet if we look back historically, notice the date here from Freudentahl in 1973, we know it’s more informative to observe a student during a math activity than grade his papers, and so this notion that we do this daily, if we teach to sort of observe, if we teach to look at what kids are doing, interacting with them. Let’s go back to the practices again for a minute. We have right within the implementation of our work the opportunity to assess through our observation. We can also see that regular assessment with follow up, produces a substantial achievement and when teachers set rules about how and what they’re going to go after, their words fuse, Sam Vanderbilt will give us additional information about this. So, we have this tremendous opportunity to really get at lots of really good things, more work from Dylan William and others. Particularly I want to make the statement that regularly used formative assessment to drive instructions. The students made almost twice as much progress over the years as measured by external course standard tests and their counterparts in other classrooms.

Now, one might wonder what’s he doing here with all this formative assessment stuff. And what I’m doing is that it’s been my experience particularly in the last couple years as I’ve really worked hard to study this and think about it in a different way is that if teachers aren’t prepared, they’re really not given much of an opportunity to sort of get underneath and learn a lot about assessment and how it connects to instruction.

And actually there’s a fair amount of research on this. One of the challenges of the CAPE Commission which is a teacher education commission was to sort of look at elementary teacher education where there’s a tremendous amount of need and assessment happens to be one of them. Most of the people online have taught or are teaching right now. If you hearken back to your very first year or perhaps years of teaching, you may recall that—oh my God, I got to make a test. And so, your first attempts at assessments were probably pretty formal, that is some sort of a summative assessment and then as you got experience, and frankly, as you knew the mathematics for which you were responsible at a deep level, you were able to come up with, if you will, your own formative assessment techniques that I’m going to wander into by the way in a few minutes

So, this notion of comfort with curriculum, this notion about content understanding, this notion about where is this curriculum going helps to define what you’re going to do relative to assessment, particularly formative assessment. And so why do I hearken back myself to my early days of thinking, oh my God, I’m glad I wasn’t a physician, I kill people and I don’t mean that in a school sense obviously. But you know, to some extent, all of us learned along the way. So, the notion about that and it’s pretty important.

So, as you look at—and then these are formative assessment strategies that come from Dylan William and Leahy and a couple of reports that they did and it’s also for those of you who are NCTM members or if not, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has right on their website research brief and there’s one on formative assessment that’s probably worthwhile, particular for those of you who deliver and/or responsible for formative assessment. And these are five elements of formative assessment strategies that are useful for people to think about, clarifying, engineering, providing, activating, and then activating students in a couple of ways but they have their own learning and some instructional resources for one another.

But I think I actually like to say it a little differently and this too comes from some of the work of Dylan William and Thompson in this case. Formative assessment is students and teachers think about this using evidence of learning, whether that’s an observation, an interview, an activity that you’re having kids to adapt teaching and learning because as you sort of read, if you will, that formative assessment move, you on your feet adapt the lesson. And for those of you who are in the classroom, you know this based on what kids do, how they respond, level of response, time needed, or whatever. You make that adaptation and your immediate learning needs and you’re doing this minute-by-minute and day-by-day. And Andrea captured this by herself in a comment on the chat that I just caught.

So, this notion about this, think about it, formative assessment in the classroom is frankly on your feet monitoring what’s going on. So, this project that Tim mentioned that I direct has taken a lot of kind of what I, in a very short period of time, summarized and we’ve come up with five formative assessment techniques that we think teachers can use pretty comfortably and by that, I mean all teachers. That is, we ought to be able to use observations of students to help guide what we’re doing as one step along the pathway. We ought to be able to see what they’re doing. We might on occasion interview students one on one. This by the way comes out of the early childhood community, comes out of special education communities, to sort of find the time one on one to talk to that kid or perhaps the small group to see what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.

Kind of connected to that is what we refer to as a show me activity. Picture yourself, if you will, monitoring how kids are doing with say an area diagram for multiplication of whole numbers and you might just stop and say, “Show me how to do 47 times 26 or whatever the problem happens to be. Show me how to use these materials to represent a particular equivalent fraction,” or whatever it is. Thinking that by the way, these three pathways, how I observe kids and what they’re doing, how I might pull them aside either one on one or small group to talk to them about what they are doing or what they did, and also how I might have them show me what’s going on sort of clustered together as on your feet ways to monitor the class activities as they roll forward.

Now, the latter two steps, if you will, along our pathway sort of get at more end of lesson kinds of ways to monitor what you’re doing. William talks about a hinge point question that a teacher asks towards the end of the lesson that I define by the way as a deal breaker. Here is the question I have and I’m going to ask the class and how they respond to that question frankly defines my day. It says to me the teacher that, okay, we’re pretty good here and we’re moving forward or it says to me they’re not ready yet, or it says to me we’ve got some partial stuff going on but I’ve got to fill in the gaps here in whatever time I have left today or maybe that’s where I start tomorrow.

It gives you that sort of immediate feedback relative to lesson and by the way, as he describes this, this is something where you—and think again about the classroom teacher particularly with limited experience. We’ve tried these techniques out with teachers with whom we work. Boy, they struggle with hinge questions. That’s hard to do. It implies you know the content pretty deeply and are able to sort of know where you want to be by the end of that lesson to frame such a question. It also implies that you know that content well enough that you’ll be able to deal with a lot of sort of varied responses and then if you will, take all that in and decide pretty quickly kind of where you’re going.

Related to the hinge question but a little different is an exit task and on purpose, we define this as an exit task because I think an exit ticket or slip or whatever sort of gets you to a ride somewhere but that’s not the point as far as I’m concerned. The exit task gives you actual documentation about what kids are able to do with this activity and kind of defines where you’re going. So, I think the notion of the pathways are ways that I know in our work we find helpful in terms of guiding what teachers and kids could be doing with regards to next steps. I guess the point I want to make and there are a couple here that are coming together, one is we have standards which become curriculum. And we monitor that curriculum through ways in which we engage students, either practices and important mathematics content, and along the way every day, we use formative assessment to sort of monitor our progress in moving forward with that.

And I think one of the things that’s sort of related to this is how do we communicate and share with others the teaching teams and parents and the like what we’re doing and what kids are able to do and how can we back map from whether it’s their AIR tests which I guess has the contract to do the state test in one of the states I just read recently or PARCC or Smarter or that if you will, [tweak] Pennsylvania test or the Virginia assessment or the Nebraska assessment or what have you. So, how do we get that and kind of bring it back which is pretty important in terms of connecting from summative to assessment.

So, let me stop for a minute Tim, because Tim I think has heard some of this relative to our formative assessment work at least one other time. Thoughts?

Tim: Yeah. The formative assessment, that always generates quite a lot of conversation and I usually think of it as assessment that’s being either used summatively or used formatively. It’s somewhat about the interpretation and then how it rolls into what the students do next. But we did have a couple questions actually come up from a couple people, Skip. Could you give us an example of a hinge question?

Skip: Sure. Well first of all, David Smith, thank you for pointing out that AIR is doing the Florida State test. I was blocking on that for a minute. By the way, they may be under contract with a couple other states. I know they’re doing Florida.

So a hinge question, let’s just say for the heck of it that you’re doing an early lesson on equivalent fractions and you’re using materials and so forth and a hinge question might be that—tell me how you know that the fraction of 3/4 is equivalent to 6/8. Picture that as an early third grade lesson on equivalent fractions and so forth and your kids are working through it and so you ask that question. And then how kids respond to that, how they kind of relate to the use of a model to represent that, given whatever models you present, that lesson will guide you in terms of your next steps.

Let’s say that for instance, you ask that question, how would you model that 3/4 is equivalent to 6/8 and not one student in the entire class uses the number line even though you spent what you consider to be a fair amount of time on the number line. Well, given the importance of the number line, beginning in Grade 3 with equivalence, to me that would say, “I guess we’ll spend a little bit more time on the number line and use it a tool tomorrow. So, that’s what that ought to give you. Hopefully that’s helpful.

Tim: All right, great. Thanks Skip.

Skip: I’ll move to the teacher growth and I’m going to turn this back to you.

Tim: Yeah, actually do this next, just this slide and the next one and then we’ll hand it over to Joanna.

Skip: Yeah, one of the things that Tim alluded to is the whole notion of teacher growth in the sense that one of the things that—I’m just looking at a question, why not ask the class, why did no one use the number line? I don’t want to do that yet but we could talk about that privately, David. Sorry about that. So, relative to pre-service, in-service, and national organizations, as we know, we come across a trajectory ourselves in terms of our own background and so what is it that you bring from your pre-service training into the first few years of your work as a teacher? How is that supplemented in professional development through your in-service work and how can national organizations, whether they are the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics or the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics or other related organizations help sort of build that.

I mean one of the things that I noticed as a culture and I noticed just some of the line of the questioning here is that in terms of background, what are we doing for people who frankly when you say to them NCTM, you have to define National Council Teachers of Mathematics. Where are they getting the support professionally for the teaching of mathematics and so how do we think about that. One of the things/elements that I’ve been involved in now for probably close to 30 years in a number of different ways is the realization at least on my part that there ought to be a math specialist in every classroom, or every elementary building in the country that given the preparation of particularly elementary classroom teachers within our country that math is too important not to have help at the building level.

And I say that because every one of our states has certification of and for a reading specialist and we have just about 20 states that now have certification for math specialists at the elementary school level. So, I see such people as a resource and that website that you’re looking at right now, is for a project that I direct that’s dedicated to the work of such specialists. So, feel free to visit that site. It has a number of presentations my team and I have made over the years and materials that we’ve developed including our work with the formative assessment pathways as well, because I think as we move—Tim alluded at the top of the show, if you will, we’re moving forward to some really fascinating times and frankly classroom teachers need support and I know that principals are very busy people and they can’t do everything that teachers need in the building, and so I see such people as just amazingly valuable on a daily basis, on the ground assisting teachers, providing the PD, providinging the mentoring, helping out with content in terms of understanding, figuring out frankly what a hinge question is, and why you would want to ask a particular question, and perhaps why not and those kinds of things. So, let me pass this over to Tim and he’s going to pick up relative to personal, personalized, and digital learning.

Tim: Yeah, I think we’re going to just give him a couple of slides in the interest of time to make sure we can hear from Joanna and bring her in. So, let me get to that slide really quick. So Joanna, you’re with us, yes?

Joanna: Yes I am.

Tim: Great. So, I’m bringing your slides up here.

Joanna: Great.

Tim: All right. So to reminder to everyone, this is Joanna Bannon who’s the—make sure that I get this correct, she’s the Assistant Coordinator of K–12 Instructional Services in an urban community outside Milwaukee. So, Joanna, take us away.

Joanna: Great. Thanks for having me. Yup, we’re located in West Allis, outside Milwaukee, that’s in Wisconsin. A little bit of background about our district, we have a little over 10,000, just under 11,000 students. We are a one-to-one iPad district. That initiative began three years ago and we’ve been really pushing and leading in our region anyway much of the personalization work in the area and have been recognized for that which we’re very proud of. We’re about 80 percent complete with our iPad rollouts.

Our iPad rollout was prompted by implementation of next generation learning. And next generation learning is really just founded on personalization, many of the same things that Skip was talking about earlier. I was sitting here like, “Yes, yes.” Assessment, engagement, creating context for learning, and just—we feel very strongly that another piece of that formative assessment is bringing the student voice into it, so I’ll get to that in a little bit. But the next generation communities are really based on personalized learning, really allowing learning to occur anytime, anywhere, resulting in the world-class knowledge, the college and career readiness skills that we’re looking for, facilitate and inspire student learning, design and develop digital learning experience, and so forth.

Our next generation is founded on six pillars, college and career readiness obviously which is the focus of K–12 education in general, student-centered learning environments which I’m happy to say DreamBox has really helped us to move toward in addition to project-based learning and some other things, but also creating the actual physical environment as well as more of the culture of learning that’s based on students.

We use competency-based progression, so our students are demonstrating using evidence of deep learning on a continuum. So, we have really moved away from grade level and moved to multi-age classrooms where students are able to not just learn a third grade curriculum, if they have worked through third grade standards, they’re allowed to move as high as they can possibly go. Student voice in learning, this is really a focus of our district at this time, we’re in our third year of implementation this next generation. So, we create personalized learning plans with the students and what that means is with the teacher and the student co-create that personalized learning plan to identify the learning targets, they identify what new learning they will need in order to meet those targets, what kind of evidence they would like to show their learning. So, we have kind of a combination of—a fair balance in my opinion of district and school-level assessments. These are just summative assessments that everyone’s going to do and then we also have a nice balance where students are also given not just options but they actually create and think of ways that they would be able to demonstrate learning based on the standards they’re working toward.

So, they attend seminars, they then do a lot of their work in their PLP in a workshop-style learning environment with on-demand learning opportunities, with guided and collaborative practice, and they on a weekly or sometimes on a daily basis also have opportunities to work with their teachers to have some instructional conferring and goal setting, so they really say—I haven’t really met this goal and this is what I’m going to need in order to get there, and so we’re very excited about those pieces. The 21st century skill set of course is very important, collaboration and communication, and problem-solving and thinking critically, and then family and community partnerships, we’ve really been struggling with that in the past and this next-generation learning has really helped us in the last few years to really bring our community and families into that learning.

Some of the initial concerns when we are really moving into a full K–12 in this size district with this kind of learning model, many of the other districts and schools around the country that have a model similar to this are on a much smaller scale. We are public education, again with about 11,000 students. Some of the initial concerns were obviously training the teachers to really—this was really a philosophical shift for many of our staff, so that effective training, helping parents really become educated in how learning and showing learning and really that messy practice of digging in is very different. We had a lot of parents—or we were prepared for a lot of parents to become frustrated with specific to math and kind of a new approach and understanding that we have I think now that math is not about just being able to calculate numbers quickly in your head and regurgitate information and plug numbers and formulas, it’s really the application piece and that we were prepared for more challenges than we actually did other than the instructional support in buildings and some of those things.

Much to our pleasant surprise, we’ve had huge success. Our iPad initiative is almost complete. We have adapted very successfully a number of multiple adaptive online programs that allow us to really personalize and have students working at their level and moving—pacing their learning appropriately and as fast as we can obviously within the comfort zone and what’s practical. We’ve had significant parental support. We have completely shifted our professional development model in our districts and we have had local, state, and national recognition for a lot of the work that we’ve been doing.

We’re very excited about our DreamBox implementation. We have that available for every student K–4 through fifth grade and we have seen just a tremendous increase in engagement, a tremendous improvement in students being able to persevere and really build that stamina in math early on in the process. Students are really used to there’s a right answer and a wrong answer and I need to get the right answer or I give up. And DreamBox as well as some other strategies and obviously the rich discussions and modeling have really helped our students to begin, I think, to understand that math and learning, it’s all about the process, it’s all about the struggle and unless we’re struggling, we’re probably not learning. So that’s really become a mantra and I think that that has stemmed from some of the learning opportunities that our kids have had in DreamBox.

We also have adapted some other programs for some other content areas that have been very effective. The reports, our teachers have become much more data-driven and really looking at, “Do I have evidence of this learning? What do I need to teach next?” And just like Skip was speaking to, that adjusting on the spot. We talk about teaching as a science and an art and I think that really speaks to it. It takes some skill and it takes really knowing your students and hearing them and having them talk out loud and think out loud when their problem-solving in math is really important, and then also looking at a lot of the reports that we have access to with DreamBox and stuff has really helped us pinpoint where our entry point is for instruction. And then it’s also helping us really close our achievement gaps. I’m very focused in our district and RtI efforts and how we use some of our programs and the instruction that’s required to actually close those achievement gaps and get our kids closer to grade level than they have probably in the past. So, I think that’s it. That’s kind of our story in West Allis, West Milwaukee. Thank you.

Tim: All right, thank you so much Joanna. That’s fantastic. So I think now we’ll take a little bit of time for some questions and if you have a question, feel free to type it in that ask a question box that’s just above the chat window and we already have some here that I think Skip, first one for you.

Skip: Okay.

Tim: We have a question about if the Common Core State Standards are pushing the benchmark higher than what we have now, could you speak a little bit to that?

Skip: Sure. I think that in large measure—and this is my assessment as both a writer of the Common Core and just kind of watching and on a regular basis, implementation in lots of places, that on a regular basis, I don’t see a whole lot of significant curricular change at the K–2 level in terms of the actual standards. What’s different is that this is the first set of standards that we’ve had. Remember, NCTM came out with a curriculum of evaluation standards in 1989, 25 years ago, so it’s not like we’re doing standards for the first time. But this is a set of standards that actually puts in the statement use of for instance visual fraction model for use of area diagrams and so forth. So, for some teachers, that’s brand new. For many teachers, there’s nothing new about that at all but they’ve always been using those models. They’ve always been using manipulative materials to help guide conceptual understanding or what have you.

So, I don’t see tremendous amount of change content-wise K–2 at all, 3 through 5, you know what’s going on there, the biggest change across the elementary level is fractions. And you see that careful development actually as you know, fractions are smuggled into K–1 and 2 under geometry in terms of partitioning but then becomes very active in 3 through 5, including use of the number line as I alluded to in my discussion earlier as early as Grade 3 and pushing down some of the other topics.

So, that’s sort of a real quick slice, elementary. At the middle school level, it’s a heavy algebra sort of related curriculum and that’s going to be a change for many. The expectation is that much of fraction work is done, it’s picked up with ratio and proportion in Grades 6 and 7, so that will be a change for some as well. At the high school level, the biggest thing I hear from high school teachers is that geometry is really different because the focus on geometry at the high school level and a Common Core transformational geometry and many, many teachers, particularly those of age, I’m not going to go anywhere beyond that phrase, don’t have a background in transformational geometry and/or may feel uncomfortable with it or whatever so I hear about that a bit. That’s a real quick thumbnail, Tim. I’m happy to add more if needed.

Tim: Excellent. I was thinking real quick one of the slides—we talked about the angle measurement as a particular standard where at DreamBox we’re trying to create new learning experiences that really leverage digital experiences in ways you can’t do with pencil and paper. And when we looked at—having been a high school geometry teacher, this first Common Core standard in fourth grade is just measure angles with a protractor and sketch angles and that feels like a lot of times that’s the main thing students got but the Common Core goes on to having big, pretty long —

Skip: Yeah, in fact I was talking to Tim yesterday about this at rehearsal time and that 4MD point 7 is really something that here again, there’s a slice of this that’s sort of new at the fourth grade level and frankly there’s a lot of treatment of angle at the fourth grade level and the point 6 part is stuff that people—anybody who has taught fourth grade, you’ve been doing that throughout your entire career. The point 7 part is different because it’s getting into transformational stuff and frankly setting the table for the high school stuff I alluded to earlier, so I’m glad you brought that back in, Tim.

Tim: Yeah, and one of the things I referred earlier to Michael Fullen’s report, “Alive in the Swamp,” one of the points that he makes is about digital pedagogy is a lot of times, trying to just take something like that standard and just explain it to students on a computer which is a typical technology to use but not really the best, because it even goes on in the Common Core, there’s two additional fourth grade Common Core angle measurement standards that really expect a depth of understanding about angles that’s going to serve students well beyond just fourth grade when you get into working with radians and skip the transformational geometry.

So, at DreamBox, we took a look specifically at this word turns that’s in these standards because too often, students just get a static protractor and we built a lesson where students actually rotate a manipulative in order to help a spider build a web, and students from fourth grade on are understanding this rotational aspect and can use it to create angles bigger than 360 and go in the negative direction and this really becomes intuitive and that’s part of our design and in this instance, the Common Core really elicited some good design opportunities for us.

Two more questions I think, Joanna, can you talk a little bit about who provides the professional development and some of the financial sustainability of your initiative?

Joanna: Sure. Our professional development is really taken on by—it’s very much a team approach. So, our instructional services department consists of six coordinators like myself and we each have kind of our different areas of expertise but we really function as a team and then we were also lucky enough—the decision was made last year and we kind of reallocated some things in our budget. There was no new money available unfortunately but at the end of last year, we spent a great deal of time re-allocating and this year we have—in instructional services, they’re academic teams but they’re basically are instructional services team member in each building. So, at every level we basically have someone there to coach and provide PD.

Our schedule also, we made the shift about three years ago to have built in collaboration and PD time into each day. So, every building has a minimum of 45 minutes in the morning where building wide or team professional development and collaboration occurs on a daily basis. Sometimes that’s very structured and that’s run by the academic dean in the building which is kind of directed by my team at the administration level and then sometimes it’s more just authentic collaboration within teams but several times a week it is very structured and very—your kind of typical PD but it’s condensed into 45 minutes in the morning.

So, I think that’s basically it. We also have embedded throughout the school year we have five district wide PD days that are focused entirely on personalization. So, within departments, within content areas, K–12, we’re talking about how do I deliver this content using personalized strategies? So, how do I write PLPs whether I’m talking about a student who is an 11th grader in a high-level English course or a second grader, their Math PLP.

Tim: All right, thank you so much Joanna. Well, we are now at about three minutes left, so just a quick wrap up about DreamBox, at DreamBox we combine three essential elements into one online learning environment and we also have an iPad app where we combine rigorous math, a motivating environment, and an Intelligent Adaptive Learning engine that really empowers students to do mathematics, and then our intelligent adaptive platform sort of watches what students do mathematically and provides them the right scaffolding and feedback that they need in the moment of learning.

We do have reporting aligned with several different standard documents including the Common Core and we try to design as you saw with that lesson involving angles. We design in a way for students to do the mathematical practices in the Common Core, to look for structure, to make sense of problems. Skip, did you want to chime in here on any of these elements?

Skip: Well I think that and I actually saw sort of a trend in the comment, the chat box here that I want to kind of react to as well. In other words, I envision the practices as sort of overarching content standards and content clusters and so that regardless of whether it’s equivalent fractions or work with angles or whatever, how you engage the practices and sort of getting at that important mathematics is something that teachers encounter every day. In other words, you could make the statement. I firmly believe that every lesson engages the standards of mathematical practice, complementing, going along with, if you will, that content, and then of course connecting to how you’re monitoring that with a formative assessment that you mentioned.

So clearly, and Tim knows this because of the kind of work we’ve been involved with over the years and it’s not a lesson that’s solely about angle measurement but it’s how the kids are engaging that angle measurement which kind of connects with one or more of the practices.

Tim: Yeah, great, thank you Skip and the adaptivity is important because we need to differentiate for students and even if a student is a couple of grade levels below, what they really need is more time to make sense of some of these complicated ideas that even if you are above grade level or below grade level, the practices are the practices. That’s how mathematicians engage no matter what they’re learning. That’s what professional mathematicians do.

So, one of the things we offer at DreamBox is robust reporting that provides educators and teachers and parents with the kinds of information they need about what students are learning and you see here an actual student report, the names have been changed but students are working at multiple grade levels at the same time. They’re able to test out of things in DreamBox and make progress. And the time is not the constant but the achievement is. And we also provide teachers with differentiated reporting, so you can see which students already know something and we have evidence that they understand something like doubling and halving in multiplication and so if you’re creating strategy groups or trying to do more personalization in the classroom, you have this information from which to build your group.

So, lastly in conclusion, we do offer free school-wide trials at DreamBox. If you’re interested, go to our website, or the orange bar at the top of the website, and we are also really excited about this fall we will have lessons aligned with middle school content, Grades 6, 7, 8 and beyond actually to really support learners at those ages and teachers too with free Whiteboard teacher tools that are on our website to really engage students in understanding more complex mathematics.

Skip: Tremendous need at the middle school level, sorry to interrupt, Tim.

Tim: No, that’s great.

Skip: Middle school teachers are looking for these kinds of tools.

Tim: That’s true and as algebra starts to show up more formally, it’s connecting every learner with deep understanding is a challenge, especially if you have 30 students in a class. So, I very much want to thank EdWeek for hosting this forum. I want to thank Skip and Joanna for sharing their insights and their expertise. I appreciate everyone who participated in the webinar. We have some great questions. I’m sorry we weren’t able to get to all of them but—