MONTHLY FEATURE

HOME BASE HELPS NC MATH TEACHERS CONNECT, COLLABORATE AND LEARN

Secondary school math teachers across North Carolina are adjusting their instruction this year to get in synch with revised standards the state approved last summer for NC Math 1, 2 and 3, key high school-level courses required of all students.

Even for a single district, helping a few dozen teachers adopt the changes demands a clear plan for support and implementation.

But how about ensuring those changes are understood, embraced and ultimately taught by more than 6,000 math teachers scattered from the Tennessee border to the Atlantic Ocean? How should the state make sure that students are learning about completing the square this year in NC Math 2 and deriving the equations of circles in NC Math 3?

In a new, technology-savvy solution to that problem, North Carolina is turning to its suite of digital applications known as Home Base to spread the word and support adoption, while also leveraging the opportunity as a way to foster collaboration and instructional improvement among math teachers statewide.

Mathematics leaders with the N.C. Department of Instruction are using Canvas, a learning management system included in the Home Base digital suite, to support what they’re calling the Math Collaboratory.

In the inaugural pilot, DPI is in the process of helping every Math 1, 2 and 3 teacher in the state gain access to the Math Collaboratory. The online learning management system allows teachers to access materials and connect with each other via discussion boards, to share resources, chat and eventually participate in video conferencing with one another, said Jennifer Curtis, DPI section chief for K-12 mathematics. 

“This endeavor is cutting edge and represents a new way of thinking about how teachers connect with each other in professional learning environments in an online space,” Curtis said. “There are many lessons to be learned – as is the case with any new technology application.”

Canvas is typically used as a "class" format for K-12 students. With the Math Collaboratory pilot,  DPI, along with UNC Greensboro as its research partner, is using the same platform to provide a safe space for teachers to be "students" themselves by connecting with others across the state without traveling.

The idea grew out of the need for professional learning communities that teachers could access anytime, anywhere.

The Math Collaboratory builds on a grass-roots effort to draw on the expertise and experience of math teachers across the state to develop the revised standards from the start.

“Teachers who actually teach NC Math 1, 2 and 3 took the leadership in rewriting these key standards,” State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey said when the board approved the revised standards in June. “That ensures strong standards with wide acceptance by classroom teachers.”

Immediately following the adoption, more than 23 districts met to create a suggested pacing guide that ordered the topics contained in the standards. The results of this grass-roots effort, including a collaborative pacing guide, were shared with DPI as were resources from districts such as Union, Johnston, Buncombe, Moore, Franklin, Wake, and Cumberland counties.

Mathematics leaders at DPI continued the collaboration by inviting teachers, coaches and district leaders to partner with higher education mathematicians and researchers to join them in writing and producing weekly on-line webinars highlighting aligned curricular materials while also encouraging teacher discussion and learning.

Additionally, 13 regional in-person informational sessions were held around the state as well as the first of 3 regional professional development sessions in four regions. More than 1,000 teachers and leaders have attended the in-person sessions, some of which were recorded for viewing by teachers who could not attend. 

Lauren Baucom, a high school math teacher from Union County and Presidential Award Winner, said the effort to enlist the support of classroom teachers has tapped a valuable resource and affirmed the value of teachers.

“It gave us a common voice to speak to what is best for students in mathematics learning,” Baucom said. “As a group we challenged each other to look for meaning and connections and to find ways to communicate this to our colleagues in the field. We challenged DPI to follow up these standards with rigorous professional development, which they have done and done well.

“Housing these moments and resources in Canvas via Home Base will allow teachers from across the state to continue their learning and receive a new level of support.”

The innovative approach to teacher development and support also is drawing on the expertise of teacher education programs, for research and continued improvements. 

Research partners at UNC Greensboro helped develop the resources and content for the Canvas application and continue in a role analyzing the pilot effort’s progress through regular, weekly feedback from math teachers.

"Students learn when they share their ideas, consider other perspectives, and pose and answer questions. The same is true for us as educators,” said P. Holt Wilson, a mathematics education researcher at UNC Greensboro. “Canvas is allowing math educators from classrooms, districts, and universities across North Carolina to interact with resources and each other to learn about the standards together."

Katie Mawhinney, a mathematician from Appalachian State University, said the initiative using Canvas provides a great opportunity to strengthen math instruction across North Carolina.

"As the Department of Public Instruction provides more opportunities for mathematicians and mathematics educators to work together, the online resources will continue to increase in quantity and quality,” Mawhinney said.

“It's much easier for a high school teacher to access the standards as they are formatted in this platform,” she said. “Now we need to get more people to use the resources and join the conversation; ask clarifying questions, share what's working and what's not. Improving our mathematics teaching will happen faster through these collaborative tools."