Last night I spotted Billie England at the Oklahoma City School Board meeting, and I was a little surprised to see her. Normally teachers don’t pop up at those meetings, so I was caught a little off-guard. Then, as the meeting wound up, I figured out why she was there. The John Marshall High School math teacher was being promoted. She was named an assistant principal of Jefferson Middle School. It was neat to see someone I met and interviewed move her way up the ranks. The last time I saw Billie, she was making kids run and laugh about algebra. Here’s the story I wrote about her:
“OK my babies, OK my darlings, OK my sweetie pies.”
John Marshall High School math teacher Billie England settles down her class and starts in on her lesson.
Students calculate volume on the marker board as part of a state test review. It’s a game England plays. Each corner of her room represents one of the multiple-choice answers on a state practice test. Students work the problem and then move to the corner they think represents the right answer. The class is almost always divided.
England weaves around the desks, peeking over students’ shoulders. She pats a few on the shoulder. Her goal is to call on or physically touch every kid every hour.
“Kids have a tendency to melt into the wall,” England said. “You can’t just let those kids go unnoticed.”
England wants her students to do well on state tests, but she also wants to prep them for life. Some of her students come from loving homes; others don’t. She works at John Marshall because she wants to help them.
“They need me,” England said. “I don’t know what to say. I guess I need them, too.”
Just as the students debated the answer to an equation, the bell rang.
“Clean it up,” she said. “Go away. Love you. See you Monday.”
After leading workshops last week at a regional math convention, state Teacher of the Year Heather Sparks is back in the news again.
All Kinds of Minds, a nonprofit organization that tries to help struggling students, issued a congratulations today to Sparks.
Sparks graduated from an All Kinds of Minds program called Schools Attuned and went on to become a program facilitator.
The Oklahoma City Taft Middle School teacher said the professional development she received through Schools Attuned “significantly changed” her teaching and helped her with her algebra and pre-algebra lessons.
Oklahoma was the second state to launch a statewide Schools Attuned program thanks to funding from the state Legislature and Department of Education. The funding allows people to go through the training without paying the standard $1,500 fee.
More than 2,500 Oklahoma educators have gone through the program to date. If you’re one of them, share your thoughts on the program below.
UPDATE: Sheryl Flowers with Schools Attuned called me this morning, Oct. 7, to update the number of Oklahoma educators who have gone through the program. She said it’s up to 3,904 in 231 districts.
Today is the last day of a regional conference of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
Educators from as close as Oklahoma City and as far as Australia have been leading upward of 200 workshops since Wednesday to examine how to analyze what students do and don’t understand about math and then use that information to teach them in more effective ways.
Among the presenters is Taft Middle School’s Heather Sparks, who became the state’s Teacher of the Year last month. She led a session yesterday involving robots, and is leading one this afternoon incorporating puppetry into algebra, spokeswoman Gaye Dillin told me.
What creative ways of learning math do you use or remember learning in the classroom?
Hurricane Ike’s waves are still rippling.
Toyota representatives who came to Oklahoma City to present a hybrid Prius to the 2009 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year today weren’t present at the ceremony.
They were with Gulf States Toyota — based in Houston — and had to return home to clean up from Ike, said Tim O’Toole, president and general manager of the Oklahoma State Fair.
O’Toole extended some words of thanks and hope to the representatives and others in the hurricane’s path before stepping aside for the teacher recognition program to continue.
Check out NewsOK.com and tomorrow’s Oklahoman for more about the state’s new Teacher of the Year, math teacher Heather Sparks of Taft Middle School in Oklahoma City.
State test scores were released Thursday, for which student performance in part determined which schools landed on the NCLB-mandated 2008 Needs Improvement list.
Here’s a little more detail on how students fare on the different tests (click to enlarge):
Also Thursday, I ran across a story about how New York City officials want to give math assessments to kindergarteners. As you might imagine, there’s some debate over whether that’s too young an age for standardized testing. The full story is here.
Feel free to share your thoughts on these assessments or the Needs Improvement list below.
Do you know math well enough to teach the third grade? Deborah Ball, dean of the School of Education at the University of Michigan, posed this question to about 30 education reporters, myself included, at a recent workshop in New York.
38 / 4 = 9.5, Ball said. Write four distinctly different word problems that correspond to this division expression, representing different interpretations of the meaning of division, and with different possible numerical answers, depending on the context.
So how do you ask a kid to solve 38 / 4 and get a different answer?
This was a word problem I came up with: Johnny helps his mom sort the family’s laundry. There are 38 pieces of laundry and they are making four piles. How many items will be left if all the piles have an equal number of clothes? (The answer is 2 — I asked for the remainder.)
Ball and University of Georgia professor Jeremy Kilpatrick used the example as a springboard for a discussion about conflict over how to teach math and what it takes to teach it successfully. The Evansville Courier & Press had a compelling story on the issue last month, focusing on moms who aren’t happy with “new math” curriculums and who are giving their children a second math lesson at home in the evenings.
I’d like to know your thoughts. Is this a conflict at your school? In general, what do you think of changing methods of teaching? And if you’re a teacher, how do you learn to teach something an entirely different way than you learned it in the first place?
Parenting expert Michele Borba recommends having your child help you make a list of supplies, then look for store flyers to find the best deals. Younger children that can’t write can cut out photos of the supplies they want.
Together you can make a budget with your child, and then hit the store to gather the goodies. Borba said allowing your child to pay for the items (using a gift card or your credit card) also can help teach them financial responsibility.
Borba also recommends that families stock up on supplies that are real bargains. Sure you may only need five notebooks, but if they are 5-cents each, why not buy 50?
What advice do you have for buying school supplies? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment here.
Susan Simpson, Education Writer
The nonprofit Center for Education Policy released a national report today studying the effect of NCLB: Has it really helped?
Researchers found that they couldn’t tell whether the No Child Left Behind Act has indeed left fewer children behind. But what the law did give the researchers was more data because of the required testing and reporting.
Here’s what that data showed about Oklahoma.
-The percent of all students proficient in reading and math saw a moderate-to-large gain all levels — except middle school reading — from 2002 to 2007. The percent of middle school students proficient in reading saw a slight gain.
-In reading, the achievement gap narrowed between blacks and whites, Hispanics and whites, and American Indians and whites on all grade levels except for high school Hispanics. There was no change in the gap between high school Hispanic and white students in reading.
-In math, the gap narrowed between whites and the other racial groups on elementary and middle school levels, but widened across all racial groups at the high school level.
Wendy K. Kleinman
I know firsthand how tough math can be to learn. I took a summer session of algebra in high school and struggled to complete calculus during the summer, just weeks before graduating.
The hardest part of calculus, for me, was doing the algebra correctly that underpins most everything else you do. And calculus is the dreaded gateway to most bachelor of science degrees.
As is the case with all math, the building-block approach is particularly crucial with algebra; miss something early on and you’ve got a hard-to-fill gap later.
So, as anyone who has read my stories or this blog in the last few months can tell, math instruction is a reporting interest of mine. More accurately, how to improve math instruction is a reporting interest of mine.
When I read about a new online algebra module from the Atlanta-based Southern Regional Education Board, I was intrigued.
The SREB Digital Algebra Content Module was developed by the state education departments of Maryland, Georgia and Louisiana. The module is available to all state “virtual” schools in the SREB’s 16-state area. Unlike full online algebra courses, according to SREB, the module gives students a strong foundation in linear functions — one of the hardest concepts to teach in an already tough subject.
For more information, contact SREB at (404) 875-9211.
If you have any suggestions as to how to improve math — and particularly algebra — instruction, please share them with me. I’d like to get a conversation going.