Math takes center stage at LMS

Math takes center stage at LMS
Posted on 09/29/2016
There’s freshness around math at Lynden Middle School. It starts with teachers fully engaged in their own learning and extends to the students now working through a brand-new curriculum.

As all 12 math teachers at LMS enter their second year of a three-year Western Washington University grant that has them working with professors at the Bellingham university and other math teachers from districts throughout Whatcom and Skagit counties, LMS principal Molly Mitchell-Mumma says it was “exciting to be involved in discussions and hearing about math with teachers across two counties while digging into how we reach all students in math.”

With that growing excitement came a realization at LMS that staff wanted to more closely align curriculum with the new state math standards to “set foundational skills for high school and beyond and not just the skills, but the math mindset and number fluency.”

“It is not just about knowing an algorithm, but spending time developing students’ understanding conceptually of math concepts,” says Mitchell-Mumma.

Last year staff investigated up to eight different new materials and went through the process of selecting curriculum from Big Ideas. “The book is really balanced,” Mitchell-Mumma says. “Teachers wanted not just these conceptual problems, but students need to do basic algorithms and have a chance to practice.” Big Ideas fit both needs.

The curriculum also comes with a massive online resource library, allowing parents and students to download entire texts to access at home. “You hear parents say ‘I don’t know how to help my child with homework,’” Mitchell-Mumma says. “This is just a great resource for them to have.”

While incredibly early in the new curriculum process—a Sept. 29 parent night will help instruct parents on how to best utilize the online component of the curriculum—Mitchell-Mumma says she’s excited by what she has seen in the classroom with students experimenting with the conceptual ideas and engaged in group work with the lessons.

Seventh grade math teacher Nicole Medcalf says that while no new curriculum is perfect, finding the best one to fit the students and teaching styles at Lynden Middle School was a big part in choosing Bid Ideas. Plus, the ability to increase the amount of technology students could use will help teachers differentiate instruction.

Incredibly early in the instructional process—which means Medcalf still has plenty of quirks to work out, such as the pacing of lessons and ensuring students of all levels remain engaged—Medcalf has already found the enrichment and extension activities provided in the new curriculum useful resources.

New from Big Ideas was also a STEM activity. “The students really enjoyed the video and the task,” Medcalf says of the STEM component, “and the science teachers appreciated that students retained some of the information and shared it with them! I look forward to more of the STEM lessons during the coming year.”

The new exploration lessons also provide a fresh launching point, she says, for discussing new topics.

As teachers throughout LMS engage in the new math curriculum, the WWU grant that includes Saturday learning time, professional development days during the school year and a five-day summer institute helped make it all possible by priming teachers with fresh approaches.

“The Western grant has provided us with the opportunity to learn exploring math in a more hands-on way through manipulative and modeling techniques,” Medcalf says. “We are forced out of our comfort zone as teachers and asked to try new things just like our students would be required to do. There is great value in giving students techniques for modeling problems, it provides them with an entry point to tasks that they may otherwise believe too difficult.”