Math Class 2.0

Four years in, I.S. 228 hits its stride with high-tech math program

I.S. 288 students in a math program called Teach to One, which features teacher-led, small-group and computer activities.
I.S. 288 students in a math program called Teach to One, which features teacher-led, small-group and computer activities.

Teach to One, a high-tech math program meant to precisely customize each student’s learning, often uses airport terminology to describe its model – inside I.S. 228 Monday, it was clear why.

About 180 6th graders buzzed around a vast terminal-like space made out of several combined classrooms on the left side of a hallway, while more than 120 7th graders filled a long open room on the right side.

The students had found their names and stations on large monitors – like those that list departure gates at airports – then headed to 35-minute sessions that included teacher-led lessons at smart boards, small group activities over workbooks and individual tasks on laptops.

“This is a game changer,” said Dominick D’Angelo, principal of the south Brooklyn middle school.

Now in its second year, with six schools in New York City and 9 others nationwide, the nonprofit-run program grew out of School of One, a city Department of Education-incubated project under Joel Klein that attracted national attention and outside funding but produced mixed results in its first year.

Teach to One announced the results of a Teachers College report Monday that found students overall in the program’s first year made above-average math gains. But results varied among the seven schools that used the program last year, with several showing less progress than the national norm on an optional math test taken in the fall and spring.

Critics, such as teacher Gary Rubinstein who visited I.S. 228 in 2010, have said School of One seemed more focused on test prep and game playing than critical thinking and note that two New York schools dropped out of the program after its first year. The creators say Teach to One made many improvements to the original model, noting that it is aligned to the Common Core standards, includes traditional teaching along with digital learning, and features applied math projects that require critical thinking.

I.S. 228 is the lone school to have piloted both the School of One model and now the Teach to One program, which the creators operate for free in New York in exchange for the early DOE incubation. All of its more than 1,000 students now use the program for math, except for 35 students with severe disabilities.

At the end of the 2011 school year, when I.S. 228 first knocked down several classroom walls and tried School of One, the share of sixth-graders in the program who passed the state math test was roughly equal to the city average. Last year, the share of those same students who passed was more than 40 percent above the city average.

On the seventh-grade side Monday, a veteran teacher led a lesson on fractions for six students, while another teacher oversaw small groups of students rolling dice for a probability project and a student teacher monitored children on laptops.

Seventh-grade student Shelly Barkan takes notes during a computer lesson about probability.
Seventh-grade student Shelly Barkan takes notes during a computer lesson about probability.

Student Shelly Barkan had just started a two-week unit, or “round,” centered on probability that had been specially designed for her based on a diagnostic test and other data. Another algorithm sets her class schedule using the results of a daily online quiz, or “exit slip.”

Shelly, 12, had sat through a teacher-led lesson for the first 35 minutes of the math class, and now was clicking through an animated laptop lesson starring outer-space characters for the second half.

“It’s much, much cooler than sitting in math class and taking regular tests,” she said, adding that she found the daily computer quizzes helpful.

Students on laptops are required to take notes and do computations in their notebooks, which forces students not to guess at answers and allows teachers to check their work. Students who ace their daily exit slips earn stickers.

Teachers said the program automatically managed some of the more labor-intensive parts of the job: grading daily assessments, tracking data and planning and differentiating lessons. (Teach to One’s system automatically draws from a bank of 15,000 lessons bought from the major publishers and offers them to teachers based on student needs.)

But teachers still have their work cut out for them. They must keep tabs on students as they move at their own pace through customized units, urge on less motivated students and answer to parents who can check each student’s daily progress online.

Teacher Oleg Leocumovich leads a small-group lesson on fractions.
Teacher Oleg Leocumovich leads a small-group lesson on fractions.

“We have to be on top of our game,” said teacher Oleg Leocumovich.

As the school day came to a landing Monday, the nearly 200 sixth-graders spread around the long room gathered their belongings as a school staffer with a microphone issued instructions – sort of like a flight attendant.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.