“Mathematics has the greatest and most indefensible differences in achievement and participation for students of different ethnicities, genders, and socioeconomic income levels of any subject taught in the United States.” Jo Boaler, Mathematical Mindsets
During this year’s Advisor Academy, Agile Mind brought together advisors that offer services for partners districts and used Mathematical Mindsets to ground our thinking for the week. The quoted text above was particularly eye-opening for me, and reinforced the importance of our work as we look to transform the teaching and learning of mathematics and science throughout our country. Vice President of Professional Services David Savage kicked-off the Academy with a session that made us think critically about the need to “double-up” our impact and pushed us to consider what we need to do to support more teachers and students. To help us achieve this bold vision, we use intense data-mining to help determine exactly where we need to go. As Agile Mind CEO Linda Chaput put it, if you want to build a garden, you need to watch where the people walk.
To that end, we engaged in critical conversations throughout the week about how we can continue to impact change in science and math classes everywhere. Linda asked us to reflect on the resources that are available for aspiring doctors, lawyers, and engineers as they learn their craft, and wondered why the same quality of materials are not available to pre-service teachers. While I have often talked about how Agile Mind was developed to help improve achievement for some of our most vulnerable students, our organization truly values educators and looks to empower teachers with high-quality resources to achieve this end.
During this inspirational and informative week, we also had a chance to learn about cutting-edge research from leaders at the Charles A. Dana Center. This year, we took a ‘deep-dive’ on the concept of ratio, rate, and proportional reasoning. Susan May, Lisa Brown, Susan May, and Kathi Cook helped explain a big mathematical shift from elementary school to middle school, as students move from working mostly with additive relationships (how much taller is John than Matthew?) towards multiplicative relationships. In the common core state standards, sixth grade is where this major change in thinking happens, but many math teachers take this important shift for granted (ask any middle school teacher what topic students struggle with the most, and they will undoubtedly say, “fractions”). These leaders explained that students need to develop an understanding of ratios without using a fraction notation that can cause confusion, which was a major “ah-ha” moment for many of us.
We also had a chance to think critically about how to unleash all students’ power through differentiation with Abby Neumeyer. I believe now more than ever that we need to re-think our connotation of what differentiation really means and looks like in classrooms. Traditionally, many teachers have thought of differentiation as offering different tasks to different students. While this may be an effective method in certain limited situation, Abby encouraged us to instead re-think our definitions of what effective differentiation really is, and pushed us to ensure that we are upholding high expectations for every student.
I also cannot thank Abby enough for her dedication to make a professional services hub that will help empower our advisors moving forward.
Joyce Boubel led a thought-provoking session which highlighted that our public schools are becoming increasingly more diverse and more students than ever are emergent bilinguals. As such, it is crucial that we consider how to best support these students as they progress throughout their formative years. In collaboration with the Dana Center, Agile Mind has published research-informed best practices to best reach students learning the English Language while upholding high academic expectations for all students. Joyce shared many of these best practices, and feel free to read a summated version of this resource here.
Massie McAdoo also led an informative session on formative assessments, and highlighted this passage from Mathematical Mindsets: “[Paul Black and Dylan Williams] found something amazing: a form of assessment so powerful that if teachers shifted their practices and used it, it would raise the achievement of a country, as measured in international studies, from the middle of the pack to a place in the top five… if teachers were to use what is now called ‘assessment for learning,’ the positive impact would be far greater than that of other educational initiatives such as reductions in class size.”
Massie shared how every Agile Mind course program encompasses thousands of formative assessment items, many of which can be automatically scored and reported in real time, thus providing instantaneous, targeted feedback for learners while enabling teachers to use data to impact instructional decisions in the moment. One of the great things about working at Agile Mind is that we are always talking about scale. In fact, “to date, almost 4 million students have engaged more than 3 billion times with our embedded assessment tasks. Data on their experiences are used to enhance tasks to ensure they fulfill the promise made by assessments: that if learners have mastered the necessary knowledge, they will succeed.”
Although this was my second time attending the Advisor Academy, it was my first time attending as a Senior Advisor. I was excited to share some ideas I had about leveraging social media to increase our outreach with school leaders, facilitate an NCTM-inspired ‘Ignite!’ session, and lead a workshop on best practices from the research of adult development theory; I can only hope that Dr. Drago-Severson would be proud!
Overall, it was truly an inspirational week with such a talented group of educators that are making a difference in schools throughout the country. After a busy two months, I honestly could not be prouder to be part of such an incredible team and I look forward to working and learning with them as we continue our critical work in improving our public schools throughout the country.