Mathematical Musings from ISA Partner School Carver High School
By Abner Oakes
ISA's Director of Outreach
The math team from Carver High School in Winston-Salem presented at the annual conference for the North Carolina Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and presenters from the school were Ebony Jason, Jonathan Stowe, Charita Ward, and Raketa Thomas, as well as ISA coach Dr. Denise Johnson. Also present were Carver’s principal Dr. Carol Montague-Davis and ISA senior director Dr. Betty Greene-Bryant.
We asked Ms. Jason to share some of the important work happening in math classrooms at the school.
When it comes to math instruction at Carver, what’s changed in the classroom? How has the teachers’ views of mathematics, teaching, and learning changed through the coaching process?
There’s more of a focus on math in the real world, on conceptual understanding, and on standards-based instruction. Before our recent work with ISA, teachers simply dug into a file cabinet of resources for their daily instruction. Now, they’re more focused on standards and employ a wider variety of experiences for learning, with access to more resources that assist in engaging students in instruction; for example, we use resources related to our TI calculators, such as motion detectors (quadratic functions) and temperature probes (exponential functions). We play with these tools as a team prior to embedding them within lessons with students.
We’ve also taken students out of the school and into the surrounding community. At the local water treatment plant, we saw how a linear function was used to synchronize flow and treatment of water at the plant. Now at Carver, the math means something to students. It’s not simply a formula on the page.
Are there strategies the team has implemented as a result of the work with your ISA coach that have supported other departments?
Since working with ISA, the math team here has engaged in many more vertical conversations. Carver math teachers are now accustomed to discussions that might begin with the comment: “Math 1 is teaching this. Where and how does it show up in your own content, at other grade levels?” These vertical conversations allow us to have a common language across all math classes to assist students in making connections from one class to another.
The district has acknowledged and awarded Carver’s team collaboration—and we use our professional learning teams (PLTs) to keep the collaboration and conversation going, such as identifying students based on data review and planning for how to support those students and track their progress.
In what ways has the math team come together? What impact has that had on how the team works together? How did it happen?
There was one specific moment, when a veteran Carver math teacher said, “Math 1 can’t improve without all of us.” That’s when the Math 1 teachers, as a start, began reaching out to other mathematics department members to support focused small group work and to start having those vertical conversations about what we are teaching and how we will teach it. We realized that if we can coordinate our language around mathematical ideas—if we can coordinate our work around any number of things—it will only benefit our students.
How have you seen student responses to mathematics change over the course of your collaboration as a department and with the coach?
In their mathematics classrooms, Carver students expect more from their learning experiences. They expect engagement, and they want to know what it is that we, their teachers, are working toward.
What we’re also seeing is a confidence in students—that they’re not allowing us to exclude them based on their perceived math abilities. All Carver students are much more vocal about what they think good teaching is, and is not, and they let us know when we might not be delivering. We like that.
At the end of a student’s tenure at Carver, what do you want them to say about their mathematics education?
We want our students to take with them the mindset that they can succeed at mathematics, regardless of their original ability level—and that they had the best teachers to prepare them for that success.