Allegheny Intermediate Unit: Promoting Math Understanding

As PA Core academic standards uproot rote learning in favor of helping students truly comprehend new concepts, teachers face new and daunting questions.

“What are kids learning?” says Michael Fierle, program director of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit Math & Science Collaborative. “How are they communicating when they struggle, and how do you deal with it?”

In this atmosphere, teachers are better understanding specialized math content and teaching methods while practicing different ways to present lessons in meaningful context. The goal is assuring that all children think critically, reason mathematically, and ultimately see math as making sense – for instance, that they understand how whole numbers and mathematical properties lead to understanding fractions as numbers, and how this deep number sense leads to understanding algebra.

Under a $1.1 million Pennsylvania Department of Education Math & Science Partnership grant, Allegheny Intermediate Unit Math & Science Collaborative is helping teachers in 32 public and six non-public schools enhance their knowledge of PA Core math standards and apply research-based findings to ensure that all students learn important mathematics.

The initiative is a partnership between the Math & Science Collaborative Riverview IU 6, Westmoreland IU 7, and four colleges -- Carlow University, Clarion University, Saint Vincent College, and Robert Morris University – to help high-needs elementary schools improve mathematics teaching and learning of number and operations, geometry and measurement, and fractions.

With 10 days of summer professional development, augmented by four days of support throughout the school year, teachers learn new, research-based practices to: As one teacher put it, “I am so eager to now use manipulatives in a new and exciting way based on my experience through this training. I keep going back to the idea of the concrete, to the representation, to the abstract and thinking about how I will use that.. I am very excited to see the difference in learning compared to past years.”

The grant also includes support for school administrators and math coaches, creation of professional learning communities, and direct coaching for one district.

It’s “a hard lift” for teachers to remake their classroom practices, says Fierle, but the initiative supports teachers turning professional development into more effective teaching and student learning. “These teachers are fabulous. They’re so open-minded. They’re thirsty for this.”

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