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UCLA’s Center X – Examining the Core of Mathematics

By November 18, 2014eNews

By Hilary Mahan, MBEF Board Member

MathematicsIn response to feedback from the community last year, the MBEF Grants Committee dedicated a portion of the 2014/2015 grants to the District’s secondary math program. With the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the need for a District-wide strategy became even more imperative. In addition to the grant, MBUSD has devoted a large percentage of the budget to implement Common Core directly to training teachers. We received a total of $1.3M from the state for Common Core implementation this year, and of that 62%, $800,000 went to professional development for teachers.

According to EdSource, a leading resource in education strategies, training of our teachers is critical to the success of the CCSS, particularly in mathematics. The new standards require students to demonstrate a deeper understanding of math concepts, particularly in the early elementary grades. The standards are now fewer in number, connect more broadly across grade levels, and emphasize conceptual understanding along with procedural skills. Moving to an exploratory, in-depth instruction model means less reliance on pre-determined formulas. Students are now encouraged to discover mathematical concepts and arrive at a formula on their own.

Upon researching potential options, a well-established program at the University of California at Los Angeles seems the perfect fit. UCLA’s Center X touts itself as a community of educators working to transform public schooling 
to create a more just, equitable, and humane society. Originally founded to challenge the “deep social inequalities that manifest in schools as gaps in educational opportunities and achievement”, Center X has since established itself as a leader in urban school transformation. Also within Center X, is a vast portfolio of professional development opportunities, including mathematics, to connect thousands of committed and accomplished educators.

Since its founding in 1993, the Center’s focus on professional development has been about “working with the district, school administrators, teachers, parents and students to develop a rigorous and caring college-going culture—one focused on learning high-level knowledge and skills and developing students’ identities as readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists .” According to Dr. Carolee Hurtado, Director of Mathematics Programs, research and practice intersect at the Center X’s Mathematics Project so the practices they teach are tried and tested. The Mathematics Project believes that teachers develop mathematically powerful students by:

  • Balancing basic skills, conceptual understanding, and problem-solving
  • Engaging students in tasks with a high level of cognitive demand
  • Incorporating literacy into instruction
  • Utilizing technology
  • Exploration, Discovery, and Inquiry

In the case of MBUSD, Center X has custom designed a robust program for K- 12 teachers. The program involves significant training with 2 full days of professional development for K-5 teachers and 5 full days for 6-12 teachers. In addition, and perhaps most crucial to its success, are the 100-120 days of coaching provided for District math teachers. This in-classroom support is key to ensuring the tools presented in training are successful in action. Dr. Hurtado claims that a reflective coaching partner helps to make sense of their experiences and ensures that the professional development training goes beyond just one training session. The program includes coaching on the new content standards that vary by grade level but also the eight mathematical practices standards, or “habits of mind”, that apply to all grade levels. The mathematical practice standards dramatically affect secondary math and help bridge the middle school curriculum to that of the high school.

The Center X mathematics team, made of up past classroom teachers, is in the classroom for developing goals, demonstrations, observation and feedback, co-planning lessons, and implementing new projects. What might be effective for Teacher A may not be for Teacher B, making this personalized coaching invaluable. The teachers are encouraged to work in teams to build synergy and cohesiveness among their peers and common grade levels, ultimately creating a more unified and consistent experience among students. The Center X team also works with the Math Leadership Team, a diverse group of teachers, parents and board members that is K-12 focused. Together they are working towards developing a common mathematical philosophy for the entire District.

With so many significant changes to the approach to mathematics, time to adjust is crucial. Teachers and students alike are being asked to alter their methods. Fortunate for us all, we have dependable coaches to get to the core of the changes on our side.

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