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Enhancing Teaching & Learning in Math Through Research & Professional Development

Enhancing Teaching & Learning in Math Through Research & Professional Development
Sophie Shulman

Enhancing the math curriculum across grades has been a significant focal point this year. At its heart is ensuring that we are challenging every child through differentiation. “All students need to feel challenged,” says Dave Hickman, Head of Grades 5-8. “True confidence develops from tackling difficult new learning successfully. Repeated success with facing challenges strategically and creatively is crucial to student growth at Mark Day. In our work this year, we are focused on analyzing and strengthening the math curriculum, math classroom culture, and our instructional practices to stretch every student.” 

This school year, the math curriculum—and differentiating for challenge specifically—has been a focus for both Lower and Upper School. In the Lower School, teachers are enhancing the way they use Bridges materials, including staying up-to-date on Bridges training. Consultant Alison Mazzola, who specializes in differentiation, challenge, and the Bridges Math Program used at Mark Day, has worked with the math teachers in grades K-5 throughout this year observing classes, working directly with students in demonstration lessons for teachers to observe, and leading workshops with teachers on curriculum development and instructional practices. “Her feedback was specific to what and how we teach here at Mark Day,” says Maggie Bendicksen, Head of Grades K-4. “We know that the most effective kind of professional development is embedded in year-round work. It’s ongoing and consistent.” Additionally, teachers in grades K-2 worked with Janet Johnstone, who works for the Math Learning Center which publishes Bridges, to update their training, which included a full day of Bridges in Mathematics training in mid-March. In the year ahead, they will continue their professional development on Bridges Math with Alison to strengthen differentiation for challenge.

In 7th and 8th grades, for many years we have offered an enriched section of algebra. In addition to maintaining the enriched section, several years ago we created a hybrid model in 7th and 8th grades to open up access to more challenge for every student, regardless of section, throughout their 7th and 8th grade years. We did that through designing an “enriched pathway” in the other two sections of mathematics. That pathway enables students who are ready for more challenge to dive deeper into challenging math problems, engage with extensions for greater challenge, and confront more open-ended tasks through high-ceiling activities. It also allows every student to pursue additional challenges at any time. The hybrid program is currently in its fourth year.

In grades 6-8, consultant Kristen Goggin has worked with the math teachers throughout this school year to refine our scope and sequence and instructional practices. We audited and updated our current scope and sequence, layered in structured opportunities for more extensions, and continued to research classroom activities and routines to support differentiation and consistent access to challenging content. We redesigned math tests so students better understand which problems relate to which enrichment option and receive actionable feedback about their overall skill development. 

This is work at the heart of Mark Day’s commitment to encouraging students to rise to meet new challenges. We will continue to examine our practices and seek out research to improve the program, including exploring ways that we might open up additional pathways and extensions for students in mathematics. “We are excited about our professional development this year. We’ve been able to put many things into practice right away, and we are eager to launch into the coming school year,” says Dave. 

To learn more about our curriculum, click here.