MOUNT VERNON — Special professional development classes are having an “IMPACT” at Knox County elementary schools. All kindergarten through third-grade teachers in Centerburg, Danville, East Knox and Fredericktown have participated in IMPACT classes conducted by the Knox County Educational Service Center, and, school officials said, are Improving Mathematical Practices And Classroom Teaching as a result.
Instructors for the IMPACT classes are Jan Taylor and Linda Spurgeon, elementary consultants with the KCESC. They said the purpose is to help kindergarten through third-grade teachers give pupils a strong math foundation.
“We really want to change the way primary teachers teach math,” Taylor said. “We want them to think differently about math and have a deeper understanding of concepts, a deeper understanding of what mathematics is all about, to help all children develop a better number sense.”
There were two rounds of instruction, beginning with the 2008-09 school year. For the first semester, the teachers met with Spurgeon and Taylor for an in-depth study of appropriate mathematics content on topics such as numeracy, and mathematical processes such as problem solving, representation, reasoning, communication and connections.
During the second semester, the teachers participated in an online mathematical inquiry course through iDiscovery, and continued interaction with Taylor and Spurgeon — and each other — online. Spurgeon said the teachers form a professional learning community and can network with and learn from each other. She said the assignments in the second semester encourage the teachers to implement the strategies they learned in the first semester.
“All of a sudden math has become fun for everyone,” Taylor said.
East Knox Elementary’s principal Matt Caputo supports the IMPACT program.
“It looks at the major learning/thinking processes that you need in order to think about math, whether you are in kindergarten, 12th grade or college,” he said. “That’s why I like it. We’re trying to teach 21st century skills to kids in kindergarten through grade 12. This ties right along with that. Twenty-first century skills for all learners are not just technology. It’s also the way we need to think in order to be competitive in the world now.”
Marci Schmidt, a second-grade teacher at Centerburg Elementary, said the training and discussion of current research the teachers had at IMPACT has changed many teachers’ views on teaching math — for the better. Last year, she was a member of the first group to receive the training.
“We spent a great deal of time unraveling myths of how to best teach children mathematical concepts, and we did this by example,” Schmidt said. “Everything we learned about, we did ourselves with the other participants of the class.
“The main difference I see in the kids coming to me from IMPACT-trained, first-grade teachers is that they are much more prepared for second-grade math. The students have a much stronger number sense, more advanced problem-solving skills, and truly understand [mathematical] equality. When I put the traditional ‘=’ sign on the board and asked my current class what that was, I had many answers that referred to it not as ‘the equals sign’ but rather ‘a sign that means the same as.’ That is huge. That is the basis of understanding math. In fact, I have had to redesign the order and content of my math lessons to accommodate how much they already can do the first two weeks of school.”
Schmidt said the students do very well using the IMPACT math techniques because they are designed for higher level thinking at an appropriate age rate.
“Many of the ways we taught math in the past,” she said, “didn't make sense when looking at the bigger picture of their lifelong knowledge. What good is it to know 7+4=11 by rote memory if you don’t understand the reason it is true? We are helping these children to grasp larger concepts in the frame of smaller mathematical processes.
“Many of the teachers involved in these classes would say that much of the mystery and frustration they have had in the past with math is now fading away,” continued Schmidt. “I would highly recommend others in our county to attend these classes. Jan Taylor and Linda Spurgeon are masterful teachers who make each and every activity relevant to the participants.”
“I’d like to mention one more thing,” Caputo said. “Funding for this dried up at the state level. It’s gone. We were not able to get state funding whatsoever. Every county school superintendent supported this — Centerburg, East Knox, the ESC, Danville and Fredericktown all supported it. It would not have been able to happen if Linda and Jan hadn’t learned how to train people and if superintendents did not commit some training monies.”
Taylor said Knox County is the only county in the state, excluding city school systems, with 100 percent participation by the county schools.