From Theory to Practice

Do you remember back in school when you were given a research project at the beginning of the year and told that it wouldn’t be due until the end of the year? I do. I wasn’t sure whether I should be happy or terrified. On the one hand I felt relief since I didn’t have to worry about it right away, but on the other hand, I worried about how difficult it was going to be if it required the whole year to get it done! Fortunately, my teacher had a plan for how to pace us and how to use our time, slowly revealing one aspect of the project at a time.

My work has been a bit like that- but without a teacher to pace me. When I began working for AIMS Center the timeline and the plan were both a bit blurry. Since we were doing something that no one had done before, the steps and the schedule to accomplish them were yet unknown. Our goal is to take a body of research about how children learn to conceive of our number system from theory to practice with our K-3 Central Valley students. First, we made a plan, modified it several times as we understood more, and set a goal of working with teachers two to three years in the future. That was 2014. Our model looks something like the image below.

In the beginning, our Director of Research selected a meaningful collection of work about how children “come to know” number. The plan was then developed by allocating time to study the research and to know it deeply before we implemented any of it. This was quite intense and took a little longer than we initially thought it would. But as we learned, we became more convinced of its significance and the potential it had to engage students with rich mathematical experiences and promote deep, sophisticated understanding. Knowing the research wasn’t enough though. It was another big job to propose and design a plan for sharing the work with teachers. It is through the expertise of local teachers that this new understanding will find its way to the students.

All of this brings us to today. In July 2018 we will begin working with teachers to “translate” this new knowledge of how children “come to know” number into classroom practice. We are partnering with a small group of volunteer teachers to pilot the implementation of the plan. We believe that change takes time and so we plan to work with the teachers for three years. Over that time we expect to see changes in all of us- the teachers, the students and the teacher/researchers from the AIMS Center. I am more excited than I can say! We have come to the crux of the model, and I feel as enthusiastic about this work as I used to feel on my birthday as a child. Sometimes I was so excited I could hardly sleep. It is the same now.

But this research project won’t get put in a binder or handed in for some authoritative “teacher” to grade it. The participants for whom this project was created for will be our evaluators. It is not about a grade or a score. It is much more important than that. It WAS difficult, and it DID take a long time to get to this point, but the reward will be that all students in our Valley will have a solid understanding of number upon which to build their other mathematical ideas and find joy in mathematics.

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