Site Meter Josh's Blog: Leadership Retreat, Day 1, Math curriculum

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Leadership Retreat, Day 1, Math curriculum

We kicked off our three day leadership retreat on Tuesday, attended by all school and district administrators. The focus of the day was mathematics. Phil Daro, a national expert on mathematics, spoke to us for about 45 minutes, then the Elementary folk worked on Everyday Math while Secondary people worked on America's Choice. The day went well, although we didn't move around enough and the presentations could have been a little more varied. The critical message that I walked away with is that problem-solving is the most important area of development for our children (and us for that matter). Knowing procedures is no longer enough; we need to learn how to use math to solve problems.

The conversation between principals, assistant principals and central office administrators was the most powerful part of the day. There was, of course, tons to talk about. I was left with the following thoughts and questions, many of which we grappled with during the day and will continue to discuss throughout the year:

If any of us educators were told in school that we weren't "math people," how will we prepare to learn the mathematics involved in EM and AC, and how will we not convey that message to any of our children?

What's our theory of intelligence? Do we believe that smart is something you are, or something you become?

How do we create a consistent comprehensive system of supports that intensifies according to student needs? Phil Daro shared a great system with us that we may be able to adapt.

How do we make math a presence across the whole school and infused throughout all curriculum areas?

How do we give up our ideologies and focus on what works?

How do we create consistent and common mathematics across the district?

How do we differentiate between motion and movement, or activity and productivity?

What's the appropriate rate of change?

How do we assess our progress and know when to re-adjust?

These are just some of the questions I have. There are no easy answers. However, I walked away from the day knowing that the leaders in the Stamford Public Schools are fully prepared to begin to address these questions.


Anonymous said...

I think it's important that we begin to expand our definition of school leadership beyond only administrators--how meaningful some of these conversations could be if teachers were invited in to some of these conversations. I assume that each school must have a leadership team--hopefully that includes grade level leaders or department heads. Perhaps next year at the summer retreat, these folks can be included in the process. Particularly when talking about school reform or PLCs--open conversations between teachers and administrators is vital for success.

Tacitus said...

"Do we believe that smart is something you are, or something you become?"

Clearly it's a combination of both. But we need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that all children are smart! Treating below average students like they're geniuses does a lot of harm to them and our society in the long run.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Starr: I found your blog about the math retreat very interesting. If I may add some thoughts:

(1) While I applaud a math program that gives an everyday context to math, I think the holy grail is to show them that it is a language for for describing the universe and nature around us. Certainly, a child can relate best to the math in his/her everyday life. But is that limited to counting change in a grocery store, or can it include understanding the math that went into building that store?

(2) A math curriculum can have some over-arching standards and themes across a district. But I don't think it can be standardized across ability/performance groups. It is like an onion. Groups of kids, based not so much on intelligence, but by their level of maturity, focus etc. should be able to peel back deeper and deeper layers of math by pursuing various sub-curriculum suited to their absorption rates.

(3) Another thing that must be considered is what comes first, the concept or the mechanics. When a child is learning the violin, she/he doesn't necessarily hear the melody when he/she first scratches on the strings with the bow. The melody comes as the mechanics of playing violin improve (with practise). There is a bit of faith that goes into keeping at that practise and suddenly you hear music. As a parent I am very concerned that our students will not go thru the throes of hearing that music for the first time. There is a joy in that quest. I am of course referring to what i see as short-cuts, or calculators.

I would appreciate your thoughts on my comments.

Best Regards