Algebraic Thinking with Rural Teachers in Florida

This past year, the AIMS Center had the privilege of working with hundreds of rural teachers in the state of Florida.  Our host was actually the Florida and the Islands Comprehensive Center (FLICC), operated by the Educational Testing Service.  We worked with three different consortia, the Heartland Educational Consortium (HEC) in Lake Placid, the North East Florida Educational Consortium (NEFEC) in Gainsville, and the Panhandle Area Educational Consortium (PAEC) in both Chipley and Quincy.

We focused an entire year of professional learning around the idea of algebraic thinking at three grade spans: grades 3-5, grades 6-7, and grades 8-9.  Each teacher participant attended four face-to-face workshops spread throughout the year.  During each of these days, AIMS facilitators modeled multiple grade-level appropriate tasks and led discussions around implementation, student engagement, and content development embedded within the task.  Discussions centered around using these tasks “instead of” lessons in the text, NOT “in addition to” those lessons.  We really focused on developing a deeper understanding while actually banking time in the classroom!

New to our team was the implementation of an online professional learning community for participating teachers to share their experiences of facilitating hands-on algebraic thinking tasks with their students. In a quasi-action research mode, each participating teacher focused in on three distinct students in their class and shared evidence of these students’ engagement and learning with their colleagues online.  This cycle of facilitating, collecting evidence, and sharing with colleagues was repeated following each of the four face-to-face workshops.

Finally, as a culminating experience, these participating teachers were offered an all-expense-paid two-day conference in Orlando during the summer.  Children’s author, Greg Tang, kicked of the conference with a lively session on mental math strategies.  Participants were able to choose from a variety of break-out sessions facilitated by AIMS staff.  In addition, they were provided with time to work with colleagues to plan implementation of hands-on AIMS tasks during the 2016-17 school year.  Finally, Dr. Diane Briars, former president of NCTM, closed our conference with an outstanding presentation on “Turning High Quality Standards and Activities into Successful Mathematics Learning!”  Files from this conference have been shared on our website at http://www.aimsedu.org/flicc-conference/.

We are excited to say that FLICC has invited us to spend a second year in Florida, again working with rural teachers.  This year, we will facilitate a similar professional learning model, both face-to-face and online, sharing tasks with a focus on “number” for grade spans K-2, 3-5, and 6-8.  We will again work with all three consortiums: HEC, NEFEC, and PAEC.

We know that professional learning is more impactful when it is embedded in the classroom and is on-going throughout the year.  This project afforded the AIMS Center team the opportunity to incorporate both of these criteria into our FLICC professional learning program.  We are ready and eager to support YOUR district in the same powerful way, with a similar year-long experience.  Are your teachers ready to embrace new ideas and improve the experiences of your students?  We would love to talk to you… Contact our Director of Professional Learning, Deb Porcarelli, at dporcarelli@aimsedu.org.

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