Success Story: Taking the bewilderment out of math

“I’m a self-proclaimed math geek,” Wisconsin Rapids Area Middle School (WRAMS) math interventionist David Keech says, laughing. “And I don’t feel that’s at all negative—I love math, and always have. My dream job was teaching middle school math with a bit of algebra thrown in—and I was lucky enough to do that for a few years!”

Keech isn’t kidding. He’s been mathematically analyzing everything since he was a kid—going so far as to design his own version of fantasy baseball with a neighbor when he was 12, complete with dice and several painstakingly neat notebooks of player statistics. “I can’t remember a time when I was happier,” he says. “I was in love with math, in love with sports, and it’s a moment in my life that always stands out to me—similar to how a poet might remember crafting his or her first poem.”

A focus on hands-on, project-based math learning

During his 28 years of teaching in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, Keech has centered his classrooms around the concept of hands-on, project-based learning. “I want my students to be able to see the connections with math and their world,” he says. “There are plenty of ways to demonstrate mastery, and my goal has always been to take some of the bewilderment out of math.”

In his position, he’s responsible for working with students in Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions as well as gifted students. He also works alongside the sixth- and seventh-grade classroom math teachers at WRAMS in addition to the math coordinator at the district level to structure curricula.

Fleshing out a math interventionist’s role

Keech teaches several periods with small groups—sixth-grade students that need extra support, seventh-grade students that essentially have a second math class for front-loading concepts, a group of seventh-grade students that are learning eighth-grade math, and a single student who is learning ninth-grade algebra. It’s a role that is unique when considering the usual job description for a math interventionist. Not only is Keech planning intervention instruction, he’s teaching it. Even though WRAMS is a two-grade middle school, Keech teaches four grade levels throughout the course of a day.

Creating a way for differentiated intervention

Keech had used Renaissance Accelerated Math® throughout his teaching career, and knew the program would be an important pillar of the differentiated experiences he would need to create. In his class, small groups of students are able to access their own AM assignments, and are able to work at their own pace to complete each assignment and by extension, master each standard. Keech appreciates that the platform makes it easy for peers who are working on the same concepts to assist each other. “When you give a group of students the same objectives, it’s a great opportunity for them to work with one another and help each other gain confidence. That’s something that can’t always occur in a larger math class.”

Providing an opportunity for productive struggle

Keech also appreciates that it helps to build the kind of productive struggle that ultimately leads to mastery. “Students are able to do problems, and if they make mistakes, it’s a teachable moment—they’re able to see the steps that they took to get to an incorrect answer, and after a bit of one-on-one work with them, they try again.” It’s that type of analysis, Keech says, that leads a student to think about the bigger picture—not just what the right answer is, but what the reasoning is behind a math concept.

WRAMS also uses Star Math as an interim assessment three times a year. “The assessments have helped us make a number of programming decisions—we take all of these historical scores into consideration for intervention, along with standardized state test scores, attendance, and teacher observations. All of this provides a look at a whole student rather than a snapshot of where they are at a specific point in time, and it also allows us to reconfirm our intuition about placing students in specific groupings or deciding to provide a more challenging curriculum,” Keech explains.

Looking ahead to growth

“As a teacher, there are things that take us out of our comfort zone—and that’s what Accelerated Math did for me. Using the program to differentiate instruction to the degree that I did as a sixth-grade teacher and now do in this new role required me to learn about the program in depth, to utilize it to its fullest, and it took a great deal of work. At the same time, it would have been a disservice to my students to say, ‘Okay, sit at your desks and take out your math books because you’re all going to learn the same thing.’ It helped me reach for something higher—for my students and also for me as their teacher.”

How do you take the bewilderment out of math in your classroom? Do you do anything similar? Let us know in the comments! To read the full version, head over to our success stories page.

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