Pam Lindemer, Ionia High School, India, MI, and Mark Coté, Project Manager
MathLab is alive and well in Ionia! As you may recall from the previous newsletter, the idea for MathLab was presented at the 2015 CPM National Conference. TRC teacher Pam Lindemer attended the session and found the idea to be very exciting. So she went home to Michigan and convinced her principal to add MathLab to the schedule for the 2015-16 school year. Here is how Pam helped create time at Ionia High School and is actively supporting struggling students.
Mark: It’s great to hear that MathLab is up and running. How did you get it started? Pam: Well, my colleague and I were very excited to give this a try, but we weren’t sure that we could make it work. As soon as we started considering the scheduling issues, we had our doubts. We knew that the kids would have to give up something to include a second period of math. Mark: Yes, losing a favorite elective is never popular. Pam: Especially when it’s a fine arts class. Some of them have been in band or orchestra for years. We knew this was going to be a very difficult sell. Mark: You must have found a workaround. Pam: Yes. First, we got support from the whole math department. Then we spoke with the principal. He had the exact concerns that we anticipated, but he still wanted us to present the idea to the school improvement committee. Once the counselors were involved, we were able to come up with a schedule that allowed the kids to keep their fine arts electives. We decided that the physical ed/health requirement could be moved to another year. Mark: Nice. We also found a way to give the kids physical education credit for the large number of hours that they put in playing after school and club sports. My district offered an online option for the health class, which also freed up more time in the daily schedule. Pam: I’ll have to look into the online idea. That sounds like another good option. Mark: So what was the next step? Pam: By early April, we knew that this would work. The math teachers started to select students. Then, the teachers and counselors talked to parents and students about the idea for the class. As soon as the students knew that this was voluntary, and that they would not lose their favorite elective, we got the green light. The counselors started working on fall schedules for the kids and everything fell into place. Mark: And how many MathLab classes did you end up with at your school? Pam: We only have one class this year, which we consider a pilot year. I teach it and support 16 students from four algebra 1 classrooms. Mark: Isn’t it tough trying to keep track of what’s going on in six different classrooms? Pam: No. We really like the fact that this is forcing us to work as a team, so it’s kind of a hidden PD session every week. We’re all on the same page with curriculum planning and pacing. Mark: How long do you meet? Pam: So far, we meet once a week and talk about MathLab for 10 – 15 minutes. We exchange anecdotal information about what’s going on in each room and offer feedback about the progress we’re seeing. We’re continually recommitting to the process á la scheduling tests on the same day and discussing standardized accommodations. We also coordinate homework assignments and projects. Mark: Great! What other accommodations have you tried? Pam: More time on tests, help with homework, and reading the problems on the tests to the students. As a math team, we’ve really been in sync and this is working out good for the students. Mark: How have these accommodations been working? Pam: They have been generally successful. We’ve found that the students are more prepared to work on the lesson problems when they get to class. Mark: So, you do the problems with them first before they try them with their teams in the regular class? Pam: Not exactly. They never see the actual problems during MathLab. I prepare some lead-up work that focuses on the critical content involved in the lesson. This might involve vocabulary development and skills review/instruction that they’ll need. I field questions and we discuss possible solutions without giving the whole problem away. Much of this is about actually providing the students the extra think time that they need when they are in the regular class, but wouldn’t often have. The second big help is front-loading the use of technology so that they don’t get so frustrated. This is working very well. Mark: Are the students feeling stigmatized at all? Pam: No. Social aspects have been good. Most take a boost of confidence into their regular algebra class, but some are still not very vocal. Mark: How about the successes? Any anecdotes to share? Pam: Overall, it’s been a good experience. We’re getting ready to recruit for next year, so I asked my current students, “Would you recommend MathLab to other eighth graders?” They all said, “Yes, especially if you need help in math.”
Jason said, “Math lab helps. I’m prepared for class instead of being lost. I can help my team understand the math.” Jason passed 8th grade math with a D–. He is feeling success this year in algebra 1, in part because of his work in MathLab. Jason has made lots of progress this year in his understanding of linear functions and solving one-variable equations.
Edward’s algebra 1 teacher said, “MathLab has given Edward the confidence he needs to be a leader within his team. He comes to class familiar with the work we will do and can contribute to the team conversation. Before MathLab, Edward would quickly get behind and give up early in the lesson. Now Edward successfully completes his work in class.” Edward completed 8th grade math with a D+/C–. He is feeling confident about his ability to solve math problems and regularly contributes to class discussions. Edward seems to have dramatically improved his understanding of linear functions and solving one-variable equations since the beginning of the year, achieving mastery of these concepts at the level necessary for algebra 1 proficiency.
Liza is chronically absent, a pattern that has continued throughout her years in school. She is able to get the support she needs during MathLab to be successful in class. Liza said, “I still feel behind sometimes, but I get the help I need for class in MathLab.”
Marissa is very shy and introverted. She has a tendency to freeze up in class and not participate. She often shuts down when she is put in a team and has a difficult time carrying on a conversation with teachers. MathLab gives her the confidence she needs to enter into conversations about math. Her participation in her algebra 1 class still has its ups and downs, but she engages more often than at the beginning of the year.
Mark: Sounds like a big turnaround for these students. Pam: Yes, but MathLab is not the answer for all students. One student we tried to support could not transfer the work we did into his algebra 1 class. Despite his work in MathLab, he continued to turn in blank assessments. Mark: How about next year? Does MathLab have a future at Ionia? Pam: Yes! Everyone likes it, so my school has decided to continue. We may get more sections, possibly three in the fall. Mark: Thanks for the interview Pam. I’m so glad that you decided to attend the CPM conference session and bring the idea for MathLab back to your school. You’ve created time for student support where there was none before, and how great to hear that so many students are succeeding and enjoying math for the first time.