Woodland Public Schools holds an innovative course to teach adults how to help students love math

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Teachers and administrators from Woodland Public Schools and other local school districts came together with Woodland's Director of Math Instruction, Heidi Rhodes, for a five-day course on how to introduce student discourse into math classrooms in order to motivate students to love math.

Staff members from different school districts formed small groups as part of the five-day class on innovative math instruction
Staff members from different school districts formed small groups as part of the five-day class on innovative math instruction.

Rhodes designed the Mathematics Leadership Workshop for administrators and teachers to create plans for how to lead development in mathematics teaching in each of their buildings. Participating school districts included Woodland, Ridgefield, and the Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School.

During the workshop, the attendees formed small groups to work through math problems using the concepts presented by Rhodes, focusing on student discourse. The concept of student discourse is to have students work on the same math problems together in small groups with each student taking a different role including explaining their own approach to solving the problem. “My favorite reactions are when people who never knew math could be fun begin to feel what genuinely learning mathematics really feels like,” explains Rhodes. “They begin to understand the power of talking about ideas and the enthusiasm in the room becomes palpable.”

Heidi Rhodes has been teaching and facilitating courses on math instruction for more than 10 years, customizing each course for the audience she teaches.
Heidi Rhodes has been teaching and facilitating courses on math instruction for more than 10 years, customizing each course for the audience she teaches. 

For each problem, students share their approach to their solution. The speaker explains their solution and answers any questions their tablemates might have. With each student having to explain their approach to solving the problem, students are able to learn different perspectives and ways to solve the same math problem which causes them to think differently about possible solutions. One example used fractions, causing attendees to think about the complexity of certain concepts and how to represent those complexities visually. Teachers and administrators discussed how different students might see the solutions in their own way.

"By explaining their approach to solving a math problem on an individual basis, the other students in the group can see and learn new ways to look at how to solve math problems from each other," explained Rhodes. "They are often curious about the way a different person saw an idea because when their classmate describes their understanding, the listener's ideas go even deeper."

Attendees looked at the different ways they approached math problems and diagrammed their solutions visually, discussing the results with the group.
Attendees looked at the different ways they approached math problems and diagrammed their solutions visually, discussing the results with the group. 

Jake Hall, Principal of Woodland Middle School, greatly enjoyed the course. "I can see that the research shows that the more students are working on the processes and using evidence to explain their thinking, the more they will understand the concepts," he said. "This training has affirmed what I've seen in excellent teaching and learning: students are engaged, enjoy their work, use great effort which is noticed and promoted by the teacher, and students and spend time really working in, around, and through concepts."

Steven Carney, Principal of Woodland Intermediate School, agreed with Hall. "Traditionally, the math classroom has focused on teaching students how to get the right answer rather than allowing the students to engage in rich discussion and exploration of the mathematics involved in a variety of solutions," he said. "If we want our students to be college- and career-ready, they must have experiences that allow them to act and talk like a mathematician not just learn how to get the answer."

Rhodes has facilitated mathematics workshops for teachers and administrators for more than ten years, designing and creating courses specifically for to help adults help kids love math. "My passion is to help adults figure out how easy it is to love math so they will be better positioned to help their students love math, too," said Rhodes.