A Teacher’s Story of Success

A Teacher’s Story of Success

Written by Ellen Hatcher, 6th Grade Teacher
Teaching sixth grade math has changed dramatically over the past several years and it has been quite a challenge for teachers to keep up with the demands brought on by standards based education.  Every five or six years math books are piloted and adopted, but all are pretty much the same in how the content is presented.  Therefore, selecting a new book for a school district is pretty much choosing the best of the worst.  Math books primarily teach math through a set of procedures and do a mediocre job at best of teaching it as a comprehension piece.  I did my best to supplement our current math program by using math manipulatives, showing different methods for problem solving, writing about math, etc., but none of these strategies gave me the results I truly desired:  a deeper understanding of math.  I still felt that my students were just learning the how and not the why of math, and those students who had always struggled with math kept on struggling and those who could memorize steps continued to do okay, but really couldn’t articulate what they were doing.

Another frustration of mine is math textbooks introduce various problems by giving examples and then jump to much more difficult problems in the independent practice portion of the lesson.  In addition to this, the individual math lessons try to teach too many concepts at once, thus confusing the student.  Therefore, the teacher is left to dissect the lesson and scaffold it as best as he/she can to make it more understandable for the students.

I knew in my heart there had to be a better way to teach math and then I heard about Making Math Real.  I attended the Overview class and finally I felt that this is what I had been trying to do all along with math.  Here was one program where it did create a deeper understanding of concepts, it did reach those who have always struggled in math, it did scaffold each lesson for me and it was a tool that I could use, along with my math text, to effectively create a solid math program in the classroom, a program where students could talk about math and truly understand and apply the concepts.  I was excited and that following summer I attended the Fraction and Decimal Class, followed by the Pre-Algebra/Algebra class last spring.

Last year was the first year I was able to implement Making Math Real teaching methods into my classroom and what a difference it made for my students and me. I felt confident because I had my materials from the MMR classes with me.  I was able to go from the concrete to the abstract and create a math picture in the minds of the students just like MMR had demonstrated.  The classes are so thorough and the lessons so masterfully planned that implementing them was easy.  However, it was the student responses to these lessons that demonstrated that I had finally found the missing piece to my math puzzle.  What I was creating was a safe atmosphere where students, who before wanted to blend into the woodwork during math, were now raising their hands and answering questions.  Another plus was that the students who knew how to do some fraction problems already could now comprehend the concepts at a deeper level and master all the four operations in this area.  All students were engaged, and for once, I felt I was serving the various levels of math abilities which make up a typical sixth grade class.

My next concern was how students would perform when it came to chapter tests.  By the time the tests were given I felt confident that my students knew their stuff, but when I got the results it was even better than I imagined.  An overwhelming majority of the students either earned an A or B and there was just a handful of C’s for 90 students. Those results were unlike any I had seen in the past years.  The best part was that I was able to see the errors of those “C” students and intervene using the MMR method of going back to the concrete level and recreating the picture for the student.

A main focus of our district last year was to concentrate on students who perform significantly below grade level.  One way our district watches these students year to year is by looking at their standardized test scores in hopes of seeing growth.  What I saw was remarkable.  Not only did the vast majority of these students go up several points, many jumped up an entire level, and in a couple of cases, even two levels;  and this was the result of only teaching fractions, decimals, and integers using MMR methods.  Since that time I have taken even more MMR classes and next year I will be able to teach the majority of the sixth grade math standards using the program.

My enthusiasm for Making Math Real proved to be contagious.  Once my principal saw my standardized test scores, she was eager to find out more about the program.  We talked on several occasions and she also came by my classroom to see how MMR worked with the students.  I could tell she liked what she saw.  I am fortunate to work with a principal who is supportive of her staff and am grateful that she gave me opportunities to take more MMR classes.   She didn’t stop with just sending me to classes however; she took my results to the district office and persuaded them to bring the Overview and Four Operations classes to Rocklin Unified.  The Overview class was well attended by Rocklin Unified teachers and other teachers from nearby districts, and many stayed on to take the Four Operations class.  The feedback I received from my fellow teachers regarding both classes was, “It is so clear and makes so much sense; this is really good stuff.”  From the teachers I have spoken to, I can tell that they are excited to try the MMR program with their students this fall.  Now that other teachers in my district have taken these courses I look forward to sharing our MMR experiences with one another. I am also excited; not only to witness their success, but to try the new things I have learned with my sixth graders.

Making Math Real is a win-win situation for everyone.  Students love it because they are successful, parents love it because students can do their homework on their own and they see an improvement in their child’s math scores.  School administrators love MMR because they see the test scores improving, students liking math more than before, and happy teachers. I love it because it makes me teach with the confidence that I am implementing a math program that will reach all of my students and will set a solid math foundation when they leave my classroom and go on to other math classes in middle school and beyond.

Making Math Real was just the prescription for my math program.  It is rare to find professional development that really targets the problem areas of a subject with such depth and clarity.  I had felt that my math instruction had stagnated and this was just what I needed to get me out of that rut and truly make a difference with my students.  I think it can be summed up best by what one of my students who had always struggled with math said to me, “They should change the name of Making Math Real to Making Math Real Easy.”  I agree.

Ellen Hatcher
Sixth Grade Teacher
Twin Oaks Elementary School
Rocklin, California