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Midvale Journal

New math program aimed to improve Canyons students’ understanding, proficiency

Oct 14, 2019 10:32AM ● By Julie Slama


By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Utah adopted new math standards almost 10 years ago, but the textbooks didn’t change. 

Since then, many Canyons School District high school math teachers have had to instruct without the support of materials designed to help them, said Allison Duncan, secondary math team lead for the district.

“They charged us with new math curriculum, but we’ve still been using the old books,” she said. “It’s not aligned with the academic standards. There is no online support. The students aren’t engaged. There’s no intervention for struggling students. And some teachers stopped using it and instead developed their own, but then it’s not the same across the district.”

So, after learning about Mathematics Vision Project, Duncan took a team of teachers to Juab schools to observe it in use.

“It’s a very different approach. The traditional way is to have the teacher stand and teach and students watch and regurgitate. The MVP curriculum is task based, where students discuss, inquire and collaborate instead of just complete the assigned problems,” Duncan said.

After the visit, last year MVP was piloted in Secondary Math I in Jordan High and in Secondary Math II at Hillcrest High. This year, MVP is being introduced at all five Canyons high schools at Secondary Math I and continued at Jordan with Secondary Math II.

Jordan Principal Wendy Dau said MVP includes many skills for students to revisit with each lesson as well as learn new ones.

“If a student misses some prerequisite skills, the lessons include those as a starting point and build from there,” she said. “The program builds on what they know to solve it. The students work together, and the teacher asks questions to guide them. It’s more inquiry based.”

Dau was pleased with last year’s pilot.

“By the end of the year, they learned so much better and understood what they were learning,” she said. “The lessons built upon those skills, pulling back what they learned so they didn’t forget anything.”

When those students returned to Secondary Math II, they remembered the concepts, said Jordan teachers Holley Brimhall and Sharon Lisk, who had taught the pilot with them last year.

“I retaught the first lesson of ninth grade (Secondary Math I) and they demonstrated a higher level of vocabulary and were able to graph and knew what it means and talk math at an appropriate and higher level than I’ve ever seen,” Brimhall said, who is in her eighth year teaching. “They’re keeping what they’re learning in their heads and are able to apply it. They understand what and why, so we don’t need to rely on catching sayings, so they remember what to do.”

For example, instead of a teacher lecturing for 45 minutes, providing an example of the problem and asking students to mimic the procedure, students are able to figure out sequence patterns and put those into math equations, she said.

“Through MVP, teachers are able to take a step back, ask the students questions about what they think and explain their thinking,” she said.

The teachers also said students are collaborating, engaged and taking an active role in learning math.

In one math unit, students are given information about two kids who are planning to create a pet-sitting business. Through developing the business, students need to calculate if they’d want more cats or dogs, figuring in cost of food, litter boxes, time to care for them, how many cages they’d need, their cost and other factors.

“It’s not your typical story problem; it goes more in depth and our students are actually creating a business plan. It’s higher level thinking and they’re using vocabulary terms while making this applicable,” Brimhall said. “I was so shocked when these students demonstrated they could learn at this level. I didn’t use these terms until I was in college.”

Even though the two teachers volunteered to pilot the program, Lisk said she was “scared to death to start it. I wasn’t sure they would get it, but they surprised us, and surpassed what we used to do in math — every day.”

Much emphasis is needed in math, Dau said. 

“District wide, our scores are terrible,” she said. “Hillcrest and Jordan tend to be the lowest as we have more transient students who jump around a lot and therefore miss instruction. Some of our kids couldn’t factor math equations because they didn’t know their timetables. Last year, Jordan ninth and 10th grade students were 24% proficient in math. The district was at 42%, slightly better than the state at 38%. Even colleges are reporting students aren’t able to do the math well and need remedial classes. Math becomes a make or breaking point for kids to be successful in high school and for some, it is because of math they drop out of school. We are wanting to improve our proficiency rating so we can help kids be more successful in math and those subjects — science, sports marketing and others across the board — that use math and problem-solving skills.” Many of those schools who have implemented the program have seen their students’ test scores increase — and one even double — in proficiency, Dau said.

In addition to introducing MVP, Jordan High rearranged their schedule so ninth and 10th grade non-honors students would be learning math daily. They also have the chance to complete assignments in class, which should end the frustration of trying to figure out math problems after school, Dau said.

At Hillcrest, Principal Greg Leavitt said two teachers took part in the pilot. Initially, one teacher had success, while the other used the curriculum periodically and didn’t have concrete results.

“MVP has detailed scripts so if teachers stay to it, and go deeper and expand, kids will see the progress,” he said. “This year, all our teachers are trained and are collaborating weekly.”

Mt. Jordan Middle School math teacher Brock Peery was the Hillcrest teacher who successfully piloted Secondary Math II through MVP last year.

“The students had tasks to do and worked in small groups to apply what they learned,” he said. “I’d give them helpful hints, and then we’d talk about it and the process. In the end, they made more connections to the material and were performing and thinking at a lot higher level. MVP is a much better way to meet individual needs.”

Peery now is teaching with the Illustrative curriculum, which Duncan said is similar to MVP. Indian Hills and Midvale Middle piloted that program in some classes last year.

“The program launches a task, has students explore it, and then the teacher facilitates the discussion, so once again, the students are taking the initiative to apply what they know and think through it,” Duncan said.

Duncan said the programs are intended to reach all level of learners.

“It will challenge those who grasp the concept quickly and ask them to explain what they think, but it will review the concepts for those who are shaky on them,” she said. 

Leavitt, who used to be a math teacher himself, appreciates the coordinated effort, and while the end-of-the-year state math exam scores weren’t back by press deadline, he said, “I’m confident that the gaps in our students’ math and math facts will improve as will their understanding of math.”

Jordan’s Lisk agrees. “We need problem-solvers, not repeaters. MVP has them succeeding at that.”