Conference coaches Delaware math educators

More than 200 math teachers and school administrators attended a conference hosted by the Delaware Mathematics Coalition at Wilmington University last week to learn ways of improving their teaching skills and their students’ learning experience. (Delaware State News/Ashton Brown)

More than 200 math teachers and school administrators attended a conference hosted by the Delaware Mathematics Coalition at Wilmington University last week to learn ways of improving their teaching skills and their students’ learning experience. (Delaware State News/Ashton Brown)

DOVER –– More than 200 math teachers and administrators came together at Wilmington University last week to learn how to improve their teaching techniques and their students’ learning experiences.

The conference, hosted by the Delaware Mathematics Coalition, featured Dr. Ruth Parker, a former math teacher and author of “Making Number Talks Matter.”

“Teachers all over have read Dr. Parker’s book and studied its content so we knew she would be a good choice,” said Jamila Riser, executive director of the Delaware Mathematics Coalition.

The coalition hosts conferences several times a year, bringing in prominent voices in the world of math education.

“Dr. Parker is actually writing a companion book about the reception of ‘Number Talks’ and we thought it would be good to be one of the groups that gives her feedback about how her ideas are working for us,” Dr. Riser said.

When Dr. Parker posed a simple subtraction problem –– 62-28, the teachers all found the correct answer –– 34. But when she asked how the teachers found the correct answer, nearly a dozen approaches were recalled ranging from the traditional borrowing method to number lines.

“There’s usually more than one way to be right,” said Lake Forest East Elementary first-grade teacher Debbie Pope. “You have to pay attention to what works for each student and teach them from there.”

Dr. Riser emphasized the importance of not only allowing students to work with the method that works for them but teaching multiple methods to their students.

“It’s not only about allowing the child to do what works for them, it’s about making sense of what others do and understanding how other strategies work as well,” she said.

Dr. Parker went on to ask more complicated questions involving three-digit subtraction and fractions to demonstrate how many of the techniques used in the first problem can be applied to more difficult problems. For each problem, the teachers shared their answers and explained the method they used to find the answer –– the discussion portion of solving problems in the classroom is a key aspect of “Number Talks.”

Although all the teachers were eager to share their methods for reaching the correct answers, the same is not always true with students.

“We know now that all students can learn mathematics and we want to give them a chance to see mathematics as a beautiful interwoven fabric of ideas” Dr. Parker said.

“The most important thing is to leave the children in control of if and when they’d like to share their voice publicly. We can give them lots of

Dr. Ruth Parker, author of “Making Number Talks Matter,” spoke before more than 200 math teachers and administrators at Wilmington University last week to share her teaching methods and give advice for improving teaching techniques and students’ learning experiences. (Submitted photo/Delaware Mathematics Coalition)

Dr. Ruth Parker, author of “Making Number Talks Matter,” spoke before more than 200 math teachers and administrators at Wilmington University last week to share her teaching methods and give advice for improving teaching techniques and students’ learning experiences. (Submitted photo/Delaware Mathematics Coalition)

opportunities to talk but we can’t put them on the spot. Unless their hand is up, we’re not going to call on them.”

She described this as a safe learning environment –– one that allows students to learn and solve problems without being nervous about being called on or about being expected to have instant understanding and recall on the topics being taught.

She also emphasized the importance of giving students plenty of time to complete their work.

“As a student, if you’re working on a problem and see other students’ hands go up in the air right away to say they found the answer, you’re going to worry about what you’re doing wrong and maybe not even try to solve it, just wait for one of the first done to give their answer,” she said.

While providing a safe learning environment is vitally important to students’ learning, teachers need to be able to realize when a student is being shy or taking their time versus when they don’t understand the lesson.

During an afternoon session, teachers watched videos and had to identify how the students in the video were receiving the instruction.

“Part of the goal of this session is to help teachers develop a keen eye,” said Valerie Maxwell, instructor of the session.

“We believe teachers can develop a keen eyes for their math students and recognize the cues that tell them which students need help and which understand regardless of their participation level.”

The conference lasted three days and Dr. Parker said events such as these are important because in many cases, teachers are expected to teach using new methods or approaches but only have the opportunity to learn during an hour or two of inservice after a long school day.

And she didn’t skip over another stressor teachers face –– passing standardized tests.

“I really believe we have to find ways to protect them from the impact of high-stakes assessments before they’ve had real opportunities to learn,” Dr. Parker said.

“I worry a lot that we’re attaching high-stakes to our teachers before they’ve even been able to start teaching their students.”

Although no one seems to have a solution to eliminate the stress standardized tests put on teachers and their students, Dr. Parker insisted the importance of not only effectively teaching students, but pushing them to do better.

“These students are going to be our guardians in no time and we need to teach them perseverance in solving problems, no matter what kind,” she said.

“If we don’t teach them that, they aren’t going to be able to find solutions to bigger problems where there isn’t a teacher or an answer guide.”

More information about Dr. Parker, the coalition and its upcoming events can be found online at delawaremath.dreamhosters.com.

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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