SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — In Jamie Hill’s sixth-grade math class, the teacher rarely provides the answers. Instead, she challenges students with a steady stream of questions until they come to a consensus.
“Who can explain why the calculator puts a 7 at the end?”
“How many of you agree?”
“I wonder if you can explain the (answer) that is not yours.”
Hill is one of a handful of Sioux Falls School District math teachers trained in this interactive, Socratic method of instruction. Administrators welcomed trainers from California-based math education program Project SEED into select schools in January to try it out.
Hill, who is in her eighth year teaching math at Axtell Park Middle School, was hooked after watching a trainer take over her class for a day.
“Oh, my gosh, I thought it was amazing,” Hill said. “They were doing high school math and they were participating, they were getting it, they were engaged. It was awesome.”
During the next three years, each of the district’s middle school and some of its elementary math teachers will receive the training, at a cost of $366,500.
The teaching style ties in nicely with the district’s transition to the more challenging Common Core Standards in math, which calls for higher-order thinking. Students are asked to defend their answers and explain how their peers arrived at a wrong answer.
“Student engagement and higher-order questioning are the two key focuses of this particular modeling,” said assistant superintendent Sharon Schueler, who works on curriculum. She describesProject SEED’s method as “nonlecture, question-based and feedback-focused.”
Using hand signals
The program is heavy on nonverbal feedback. Students use a series of hand signals to tell their teacher what’s on their minds. A football official’s touchdown demonstrates agreement; an incomplete pass signals disagreement; one arm up and one sideways means partial agreement; palms up means they’re unsure; and students use a false start or traveling call to encourage a peer to keep going.
“It kind of helps because people don’t really call out as much,” sixth-grader Emily Nix said. “You don’t just sit there and raise your hand every time. You actually get to do things. It makes it more fun so I stay more on task.”
“It’s cool because we get to express our answer,” Jalen Fast said. “You get to see how many people agree with you instead of just blurting out.”
Hand signals provide instant feedback without overwhelming the classroom with noise.
“I know who’s getting things, who’s with us,” Hill said.
The downside is it can be exhausting. After a half-hour of questioning and hand raising on five review problems last week, Hill asked her students to work quietly and independently for the rest of the period.
“It takes a lot of energy from me and a lot from the kids,” she said.
Superintendent Pam Homan said the teaching style can engage students who dislike math.
“It’s fascinating to go into a math classroom and see students who . were identified as reluctant mathematicians step forward and believe that they can do math and see a significant confidence in themselves,” she said. “It’s pretty powerful.”
Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com