Math partnership adds up to better lessons for elementary teachers

State College Area School District  |  Posted on
Park Forest Elementary teacher Michele White works with one of her students during a math lesson. From a new workshop series for teachers, White has learned ways of helping her students explore and enjoy math.

Park Forest Elementary teacher Michele White works with one of her students during a math lesson. From a new workshop series for teachers, White has learned ways of helping her students explore and enjoy math.

State College Area School District elementary teachers this year became students themselves, opening their notebooks and laptops and delving into the mysteries of dividing fractions. A remedial math class? Hardly. The all-day session was part of a new collaboration with the Pennsylvania Math Initiative, a Penn State-based program that helps improve K-5 mathematics instruction. The workshop series, a partnership between the Penn State College of Education and the Penn State Department of Mathematics, engages teachers in learning activities and discussions to deepen their mathematical proficiency while providing them with more responsive teaching methods that encourage exploration and reflection. It’s a simple equation: fluency plus pedagogy equals stimulating math lessons. “You need mathematical content expertise to teach mathematics effectively,” said PMI Director Andrew Baxter, a Penn State math lecturer who is teaching the SCASD workshops with Penn State associate professors of mathematics education Fran Arbaugh and Andrea McCloskey. Additionally, teachers are learning to translate their heightened understanding into effective instruction. PMI shows how to lead students to solutions by modeling a recommended approach in workshops —analyzing problems, considering multiple pathways, comparing work. PMI has taught more than 200 teachers across 30 school districts, primarily through summer workshops at Penn State. The workshops’ reputation led to SCASD’s interest in a series. During each school year through 2021-22, a cohort of selected teachers will participate in eight monthly workshops. After her first three sessions, Park Forest Elementary teacher Michele White felt empowered to expand her curriculum lessons and encourage her students to think reflectively about problems. “As a math student in the sessions, I have a greater appreciation for what I’m asking the kids to do,” she said. “It really puts me back in their situation, which is neat. I find myself getting excited when I get the right answer.” For the full story, visit SCASD’s website.