INSIGHTS is an ongoing series of blog posts published by members of the PBS faculty, providing a lens into how the PBS faculty thinks about curriculum development, teaching and learning, professional development, and other topics central to executing the school’s mission every day. In this multi-part series of INSIGHTS articles, PBS faculty will share updates on important school-wide initiatives, including the annual Curriculum Deep Dive and Phillips Brooks Summer Institute projects.
I am thrilled to join the PBS community as the Math Enrichment Coordinator and have enjoyed settling into my new role this summer. My work commenced in June when I participated in the PBSi Math Summit. It was a valuable opportunity to connect with PBS teachers and administrators whose experience and expertise spanned from preschool through 5th grade. During our time together, I gained a wealth of insight and context before launching into my position. We identified and prioritized approaches to enhancing differentiated math instruction, strategies for extending learning, supporting teachers through ongoing professional development, partnering with families to strengthen math learning at home. I am eager for the school year to begin so I can start connecting with students and collaborating with the faculty. In the meantime, I thought I would share a bit about my teaching philosophy, key outcomes from the PBSi math summit, and a few highlights from the projects I’ve been working on this summer.
I have been working as an elementary educator at independent schools for the past decade and have always delighted in teaching mathematics. My approach begins with genuine love and respect for children, as I strive to instill a sense of curiosity, wonder, and active participation through authentic experiences. I have learned that intrinsic motivation and rich learning take place when children are given opportunities to ask challenging questions, solve meaningful problems, pursue their interests, and reflect on their process. Playing the role of a learning partner – or a “guide from the side” – provides transparency to students and allows me to model vulnerability, risk-taking, and the value in learning from mistakes. I strive for students to see themselves as creative and capable mathematicians by meeting them at their individual learning edges. All students deserve to be challenged, and it saddens me when highly capable students who are ready to dig deeper get overlooked. I am energized by PBS’s commitment to extending math learning for all students, and I am excited to collaborate with the faculty in order to infuse more enrichment and extension opportunities into the math curriculum.
During my onboarding in June, the PBSi team gave me an extensive tour of the math curriculum. I had the opportunity to learn about the highlights and outcomes of the 2018 Curriculum Deep Dive into mathematics, strengths and opportunities for growth related to the existing math program, insights into current differentiation practices, and an overview of supplemental resources that are being utilized across the grade levels. Our rich discussions helped me prioritize action items for this summer and the coming school year. Below is a brief summary of my key takeaways:
- During our discussion of the 2018 math CDD, the team felt it was important to expand student understanding of the Common Core Mathematical Practice Standards, a comprehensive set of math habits of mind. In the year ahead, we will expand student self-awareness by establishing consistent and age-appropriate language around the practices from Kindergarten through 5th grade. I will support teachers in developing ongoing opportunities for student self-reflection and making the practices more visible in classrooms. I will also share more information with families to ensure that we are using a common language in developing math competencies in our students.
- A second outcome from our discussion builds upon the strategic use of assessment data in math instruction. Last year, K–5 teachers consistently conducted pre- and post-unit assessments for each math unit and shared the results with students and their families on an ongoing basis. During our PBSi, we discussed the need to consistently track assessment data internally in order to effectively differentiate the curriculum and target math instruction to meet the needs of all learners. I’ve spent a portion of my summer developing tools for teachers to share assessment data both with me and with their grade-level team members in order to successfully drive instruction and collaboratively extend learning.
- Another theme that emerged in our PBSi conversations is a need to prioritize math fact fluency in the curriculum. I have spent a significant portion of my summer culling supplementary resources, activities, and instructional strategies on this topic to share with both teachers and families. In the weeks and months ahead, I will create a family math portal for the purpose of sharing these resources with the PBS community. I am really excited to design a resource that will help teachers and families partner with one another. You can expect to find tips, games, and questions for making math a fun and engaging part of everyday family life; videos and research to support the strategies your children are learning at school and our approach to teaching them; recommended math reading for children and adults; information about parent education opportunities related to math; and photos, videos, and highlights from PBS math classrooms. My goal is to launch the portal this winter and lead a parent education event to coincide with the kickoff. Stay tuned for details!
- Finally, we spent some time fleshing out the nuts and bolts of how I will support teaching and learning in the year ahead. We worked on a preliminary schedule, which will allow me to work in ELC and K–2 classrooms once per rotation and in 3–5 classrooms two or three times per rotation. I will meet with teachers on a regular basis to review assessments, collaboratively plan math instruction, share supplemental and enrichment resources, and identify opportunities for cross-curricular math learning. I will predominantly adhere to a push-in model, where I will support differentiated learning within the classroom, rather than pulling students out of their classrooms.
Summer at PBS has afforded me time to dig in, think deeply, and begin taking action on PBSi outcomes. You can expect to hear from me throughout the year with updates and more information about my work in classrooms, extension projects that students are working on, professional development related to math, parent education opportunities and more! I look forward to partnering with students, teachers, and families in a few weeks to begin building community around mathematics and leading challenging and meaningful learning opportunities for all.
Michelle Fix Donahoe is the Math Enrichment Coordinator at PBS, having joined the community in this new role in July 2019. She has taught at independent schools in New England and the Bay Area for the past decade, spending most of her career teaching 3rd-, 4th-, and 5th-graders; consequently, she has a deep appreciation for their interests, capabilities, and developmental needs.