Twenty 3rd – 12th grade teachers from around Alaska traveled to Prince William Sound College in Valdez for a content rich week of standards-based math instruction using an online curriculum called ALEKS and place-based curricula, including programs developed by UAF called REACH and REACH-UP. Individual and group instruction was balanced between pedagogical training for ALEKS and broadening participants’ knowledge to use place-based education as a method to engage students. The design of the bifurcated approach was to equip participants with skills to improve their students’ mathematical performance. Teachers will follow-up in the fall with classroom lessons and provide evidence ensuring successful implementation of the material taught during the summer professional development.
Recent changes in education and increased instructional loads require many teachers to take on more math instruction at their schools. This situation is compounded with the additional challenge to effectively motivate and engage students in learning math. The Math for Teachers course focused on the idea of using math to engage students by studying the environment as a system of data inputs. As part of the course teachers learned about performance-based lesson planning, data collection activities for kids, available statewide curricula, how to chart and graph in Excel, embedding culture, cultural resources and cultural experts into their lessons, and the importance of giving students opportunities to explore, ask questions and develop inquiry-based learning time.
The course started with a Stan Stephens activity that simulated experiences that teachers may have in their home villages or towns (i.e. a boat ride on the Yukon River or a walk out on the tundra) to collect data with students. This activity was planned for the first day of class (Memorial Day), which set the stage for instruction about how teachers can connect with their students by thinking about their surroundings as potential data and analysis activities. By developing a better understanding of Prince William Sound and correlating the experience to their own local community, they can start to look at their surrounding environment as a system with many data inputs. Data collection activities over the next couple of days gave teachers opportunities to better understand how data can be used to support math instruction.
Some of the activities during the Math for Teachers course included terrestrial data sampling along Dock Point and on Thompson Pass to determine tree heights and tree age, data collection from the Fish Hatchery with a tour of the facilities led by Rob Unger, a cultural-based lesson discussion with Sonia Selanoff, and naturalist information from Jeannie Kirkland from the National Forest Service Crooked Creek Center. In addition, Leigh Lubin from the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council demonstrated an activity called Oil Spill in a Pan as part of their available curriculum, and the class participated in a place-based activity at the Valdez Glacier for teachers to then design, develop, and present their own place-based activities.
During the Anadyr activity at the Valdez Glacier, teachers were asked to create a performance task lesson plan based on their experiences. This kayaking activity got teachers “into nature” simulating how they can take their own students canoeing or on the river to collect data. The activity reinforced the importance of making math relevant for students by having them think about their surroundings as mathematical data inputs. The lesson plans, along with other instructional evidence from the week, were shared with the rest of the class during Saturday presentations, as one of the graded requirements for the Math for Teachers class. Math for Teachers was a week-long professional development graduate credit course funded by a grant from the Department of Education & Early Development and in partnership with Alaska Gateway and Chugach School Districts and UAA and UAF Schools of Education