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Wed04232014

Greater Metro

With new tools in hand, teacher helps students grasp math

by Dena L. Owens
Special to The New Tri-State Defender

Everyone agrees that teachers should perform to the best of their abilities to increase student academic performance in public schools. How they achieve that goal has been a hot topic, as it should be.

Angela Staples, a ten-year, 6th-grade instructor at Ridgeway Middle School, uses several tools to strengthen her teaching effectiveness in a subject many of cringe to think about – math. One method she uses to help children "get it" is called Reflective Practice.

The strategy is simple – she films herself teaching for later critique.

"The camera in the classroom motivates me," said Staples, who reviews the video to see what she can do differently and to identify students who may not be catching on.

"Using the video, I see immediate results in my students after making adjustments. One of them said, 'I hated math before I came to your class.' It was a daily challenge, but that student learned and now he's excited about coming to school."

In using new teaching strategies, Staples said her 6th-graders better understand math problems using independent and dependent variables (the x and y functions used to find linear relationships). Grasping these lessons now will help them as they move into advanced Algebra courses.

"My students now understand how math works and how it plays a role in work they may pursue someday, such as designing things and architecture. I think this inspires them to learn more," she said.

Staples credits video reflections for her recent breakthroughs.

"When you're in the moment," you don't catch everything" she said. "The video has been a real help."

She also points to a supportive principal who allows her to establish smaller groups in the classroom, since "some students learn quickly while others need more instruction."  Grouping helps Staples collect data on students who learn at different levels.

"We study a lesson as a whole class then break into groups, so everyone's learning at the same time," she said.

The math instructor creates optional tasks for learners who progress quickly, such as making PowerPoint presentations on a specific lesson, which can benefit the entire class.

Staples was recently named the Common Core State Standards Math Coach for 6th grade teachers in the Memphis City Schools district. The role, which provides her additional compensation, will allow her to share with other math teachers novel teaching methods of which she's taken advantage.

"This has been a good year for learning new technology," Staples said. "Along with Reflective Practice, I've started communicating with students at home using a site that's similar to FaceBook called 'EDMODO' (a safe social networking site for schools). The students benefit from it and so do I. These are the types of experiences I'll share with my peers."

Since the Teacher Effectiveness Measure (TEM) was implemented this year, scoring at a proficient level is more important than ever to school instructors. Staples selected her recent teaching strategies from Teacher Effectiveness Initiative resources. While this first year of TEM assessment was challenging for her, Staples said this has been her best year ever.

"I feel more empowered as a teacher, she said. "I see how my students feel about me and I get to pick my principal's brain on ways to improve. I see how much further I can go as a teacher and children don't lie – seeing how they feel helps you rethink how to change for the next year."

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