May 26, 2017


Math Study Results

Math Subject Study Article

As a community of professional educators, committed to life-long learning and critical analysis of our own practices and programs, the faculty of Greene Street Friends School conducted a year-long “Math Subject Study.” Our goals were broad and ambitious: to better and more clearly understand what we do well as math teachers and to identify the ways in which we can improve.

The study was designed with multiple phases to take place over the course of an entire school year. Our hope was that, at the end of it, we’d have specific commendations and recommendations to make, as well as a plan for how to implement next steps in the growth and evolution of our math program. Additionally, it had been about ten years since the school first adopted the comprehensive Everyday Math curriculum from the University of Chicago. It was our belief that part of this analysis should include a review of this program as well as other commonly used curricula.

A small committee met in the fall to design and plan the various steps involved in the process. The core components involved several guided discussions amongst our math teachers, a full day focused observation visit from graduate students in the University of Pennsylvania’s Educational Leadership Program, and required visits to peer schools to observe other teachers and programs.

Our initial full math faculty conversations took place during fall in-service days. In cross divisional groups, we discussed questions such as: “What are the strengths of our ‘math department’ in the way our teachers and school operate?” and “How has our teaching changed in the past five years?” We next spent time analyzing our curriculum maps to uncover any redundancies or gaps in content over the scope and sequence. These conversations were productive, and gave us good points of comparison as we thought about next steps.

In early February, The University of Pennsylvania’s Education Leadership students spent a day with our math teachers with the goal of providing meaningful feedback to us on the teaching of mathematics. At the end of a long day of observation and conversation with teachers and students, our visitors shared their observations and insight with our faculty. They found our math classrooms to be “positive learning environments, rich with collaboration and a strong sense of community.” Most importantly, they found our lessons, activities, and program to be “cognitively demanding and in support of student independence.” The group also gave us questions to consider in our future work and asked us to consider how we can best facilitate new students’ transition into our math program and instructional practice.

Our next steps included a review of other commonly used programs and teacher visits to peer schools. Nearly every math teacher, K – 8, visited one of the following schools: Penn Charter, Friends Select, Germantown Friends School, The Philadelphia School, Friends Central, Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, and Abington Friends School. In all cases, teachers were able to observe math classes and meet with math teachers from each school to discuss best practices and compare notes. Many teachers subsequently taught lessons from other curricula to compare approaches and gauge effectiveness.

Finally, as we compiled our data from this year-long study, we reached a few conclusions. First, as we might have expected, we learned that no math program is perfect or complete on its own; each one needs to be supplemented. Our teachers, in assessing the needs of our community, felt strongly that Everyday Math’s spiraling curriculum that revisits and strengthens core concepts over time, is the most effective approach to working the range of Greene Street Friends School math students. Further, the new edition, (Everyday Math 4) has many improvements on the past weaknesses we identified.

The resulting decision from our months of research and exploration is that GSFS math teachers will adopt Everyday Math 4 starting next school year. This summer, a committee of teachers will form to further analyze the new edition and identify areas to supplement, reinforce, or adjust. This committee will also work on developing and arranging further math professional development opportunities for all teachers.

It is good practice for any school to review teaching and curriculum on a regular basis. What is special and unique about our faculty is their willingness to be self-critical and open to change and improvement. I am grateful for the hard work of our entire math faculty and confident that this subject study, and our continued efforts to tweak our math teaching, will benefit our students for years to come.