Mathematics is a subject that one may think is better taught in a conventional model: a teacher at the front of a class, explaining and demonstrating the day’s lesson.
Teachers in WAB's Middle School Math Department would disagree. In an effort to find new ways to engage students in mathematics, WAB built the Learning Lab, a multi-functional, shared, flexible space where all Middle School students go to learn.
The new space provides more opportunity for teacher collaboration, supports varied student and teacher groupings, and has enhanced student engagement and excitement around the subject.
At the start of every class period, when students enter the Learning Lab, they first meet with their mentor – the teacher who maintains the more traditional responsibilities for each student, like attendance, assessments, and parent contact. In those first five to ten minutes of class, mentors share check in with their group of 13 students and share any news announcements, before helping each student make decisions about their individual learning experience for the day.
“The choice could be where they’re going to work, who they’re working with, and whether they want to work in a teacher-director lesson, which is more traditional, or in what we call a student-directed lesson,” Middle School Math Teacher Karen Jewett said. “Students are able to work at a pace that is suitable and acceptable to them. Those students who know how to solve, say, a linear equation don’t need to sit through that lesson. They know that they can work on content that is interesting to them.”
“By offering students all these choices, we are increasing their ownership over their learning,” Tracey Brown, Head of WAB’s Middle School Math said. “What I’ve seen overall is that students are more engaged. They enjoy being there, because it’s something they’ve played a role in designing.”
One thing that has not changed in the math department is what students learn: They are still following WAB’s essential math curriculum within the Middle Years Programme framework and progressing through it on a timeline. After every lesson, students upload their “evidence of learning,” which could be a picture of their work, a written reflection, or a video, that functions both as a portfolio of their learning as well as as a way for the teachers to monitor progress and ensure students are being appropriately challenged.
Another benefit of the team approach is that the teachers can see the big picture more easily. They can quickly identify when groups of students are struggling and adjust their approach or identify students who are excelling and create individualized plans to help them progress at a faster rate.
“Not all students are able to access the material on their own. We help them recognize their own ability, their own way of learning and then make a decision that best suits their needs,” teacher Ben Newman said. “We have four teachers and a TA together at one time in the Learning Lab. If one of us notices that a student is doing really well or a student is not on task, we can pass on that information to one another immediately and adjust. If a student doesn't understand the way I explain something, they have access to four or five different personalities or teaching styles. That's their choice, and that's good for them.”
To learn more about the evolution of teaching math in WAB’s Middle School, listen to the full episode of The WAB Podcast here.