The Workshop Model: Focus on Communication Grows Math Expertise

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In the age of the Internet, where we (kids especially) spend the much of our free time behind a screen, real interpersonal skills are at a premium. Being able to succinctly articulate your ideas is one of the greatest skills one can develop. It’s these skills that are an unintended benefit of The Workshop Model, a project funded by McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation designed primarily to help educators at Poudre High School more effectively communicate math concepts to their students. In turn, those students have practiced actively communicating with one another about how to best solve math problems. The result? Everyone learns an essential skill and everyone wins.

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Maximizing learning for conceptual knowledge

The Workshop Model uses conceptual teaching (described by NCTM’s Guiding Principles for Mathematics Curriculum and Assessment, 2009) as a framework for teaching in a way that “emphasizes depth over breadth” and conceptual understanding over factual knowledge. Lessons are organized as workshops including independent and peer workshop time (see Education Week’s Minimize Lecture, Maximize Learning, 2012). According to the project proposal the Workshop Model is conceptual teaching where students engage in mathematics in three key ways:

  • by solving specifically designed problems
  • collaborating with their peers to discuss their problem-solving
  • presenting their solutions to one another in a “math expert” type role

But before that even happens, the teachers collaborate to come up with lesson plans that foster critical thinking and reasoning from their students.

Incorporating Teacher Collaboration

With all the time constraints already placed on educators, collaborative lesson planning may seem like a tall order. While it is a lot of upfront work, the dividends (which continue to pay off) make up for the time spent. Here’s how this collaboration was organized.

  • 2012-2013: Aligning Curriculum The educators at Poudre High School developed a team of Algebra I teachers to collaborate on eight units together. With each unit, the teachers created “a backwards map that included the standards, the formative assessments, right down to the specific problems students tackled to demonstrate their understanding.“
  • 2013-2014: Incorporating Peer Observation For the next school year, teachers moved on to Geometry, spending eight full days to plan an additional eight units. The days were split between teacher development (lesson planning, addressing concerns, and sample tasks for students) and peer observation wherein one teacher would teach a class while the others observed and then gave constructive feedback.

The collaborative opportunities were so successful that another professional development session was scheduled in August so those teachers could improve upon their lesson plans.

Expanding Efforts

In the interests of covering all their mathematical bases, they are opting to use this years funding to put together a program for Algebra II while also continuing investing in the educators they have already worked with. This enables them to both grow the program and improve upon the pre-existing structures, but it doesn’t stop there.

In order to improve the standards of the whole district, all lesson plans were scanned and uploaded to district servers for all educators in the area to take advantage of. In addition to that, teachers from other schools are invited to take part and learn from the educators already in the program. This way those teachers can take what they’ve learned and implement it in their own schools.

How can you use this model?

The Workshop Model is very flexible and can be used to teach any subject. The major cost comes from allocating days to prepare the lesson plans for the year along with any ancillary materials dictated by the specific need of the subjects and the units contained therein. At the very least, this model should encourage more educators to collaborate and learn from one another, even if this specific model isn’t officially implemented at their school. When teachers collaborate, it is clear: no one person has all the answers, but those answers aren’t far away if you are willing to work together.

Further reading

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