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Transforming Math Learning in Elementary Classrooms

January 2020

Over the past two years, 77 elementary teachers from 14 Santa Clara Unified sites have participated in math workshop professional development to address the question “How do we as teachers curate a math workshop block that meets the needs of all of our learners?” 

Facilitated by math Teachers On Special Assignment (TOSA) Deanna Watts and Katie Leadbetter, the professional development focuses on structures for engaging students in productive struggle and deeper level thinking, as well as guided math groups and learning stations for targeted instruction and continued practice of concepts. 

According to Watts, principals, teachers, and students are seeing a difference in the classroom and here’s what they are saying:

Jean Lucia, a 4-5 grade combination teacher at Sutter, said that since she started implementing math workshop this year, her students are more engaged and her teaching is more focused. “I’m able to reach each and every student, and they are not able to check out during a whole-group lesson because I’m now teaching lessons to small groups and individuals.” She says she’s seen growth in how they talk about math, “They know that there are many ways to solve a problem and they have learned how to communicate their thinking, as well as navigate and negotiate choices when they work with others.” 

One Sutter student said her favorite part of math workshop is not just working with partners, but getting to know them and learning from them. “Last year I would sit there and my mind was blank, but now partners help me learn. It’s so much better than learning from the whiteboard or a book.”

Sutter principal Michael Fong said that math workshop is very interactive and engaging for students. “They are on task, doing high-level learning while teachers are working with students who need additional help,” he said. “It’s student-centered. The students know what they are learning and if they have mastered it — when they have not mastered it, they can tell you why not.” When asked about student growth, he said, “We use the pre and post-assessments to keep track of student progress and while we are seeing growth in all students, we are seeing even more in our special education (resource) students.”

Teacher Julie Wright noticed that even her transitional kindergarten students were more engaged in learning math than before. “The other day our principal walked into the room and the students barely looked up from their math game,” said Wright. “Previously they would have been standing up, waving, and saying hi.”

Erik Ugalde, a 3rd grade teacher at Bracher, said the training has helped make his teaching more intentional. “As a newer teacher, I always ask myself how can I get better,” said Ugalde. “In math workshop, I’ve been given opportunities to dig deeper into my curriculum, backward design lessons, and learn how to become a more effective teacher by giving my students more opportunities to learn beyond worksheets.” He said his students are more comfortable and confident in math, which makes the work preparing the math workshop menus and lessons worth it.

Madalyn Hunt, a 3rd grade teacher at Bracher, says her students have grown in their conceptual understanding of math. “They know lots of different ways to solve problems and I have noticed that they are much better at solving word problems - even multi-step ones,” said Hunt. She also said that making the menus for math workshop this year made her more organized in teaching math and provided the students with extra practice.

When the Bracher students were asked what they liked about math workshop, one student said, “I like math better this year because it’s more challenging.” Another said, “We do math reflections and talk about how we grew as mathematicians.”

This year, the three-day professional development, which is led through the lens of project-based learning, involved a book study and classroom observations, in addition to collaborative conversations and planning time. Watts and Leadbetter hope to be able to offer more sessions in the summer and fall of 2020.

 student reading with mathematics images all around him