LearnBop Community Blog

Top Down-Bottom Up Collaboration

Posted by Bharani Rajakumar

Nov 20, 2013 1:55:00 PM

After reading Tom Vander Ark’s blog post on the need for leadership in implementing personalized learning, it seems like the top down, bottom up balance that Denver Public Schools is aiming for is the right approach. One group of people seems particularly well positioned to lead the charge in creating this change– math coordinators and department chairs across the country, all 8,000+ of them.

Why math? Because math achievement has come under microscopic scrutiny in almost every school, and math is believed to have a huge role in shaping our country’s economic future. That’s a big deal! The focus on math has also generated an abundance of math learning products, giving math teachers a greater selection of products to choose from than teachers of other subjects have.

Math coordinators have the experience and credibility necessary to drive change among teachers. They know what will work and what won’t work in a classroom of 30 students. They are familiar with the most common issues that students face, not just with content, but also in their personal lives as well. This knowledge can be immensely valuable when developing a system that integrates technology into the learning experience--say, for example, how to help a child who does not have high speed internet at home. 

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Finally, math coordinators are seen as an authority and work with math teachers across the district, giving them significant influence in shaping a district’s math culture and best practices. Broadly speaking, I propose that there are three meaningful things that math coordinators can do to have a lasting impact on how technology is used in their district to improve academic achievement.

  1. Find the right technology that meets the vision of the district and the practical needs of the school.
  2. Lead, coach, and support classroom teachers to take full advantage of the technology selected.
  3. Develop a culture of transparency among teachers, parents, and administrators about what is working and what is not.

Let’s explore these steps in greater detail: 

1. Finding the right technology

Math coordinators coach math teachers in their district, giving them the opportunity to see a wide variety of problems that exist across classrooms. They can play an instrumental role in finding technologies that might be relevant to addressing the needs of a particular issue.

For example, if a teacher finds that a group of her students needs to review concepts that the teacher has absolutely no time to review due to a tight schedule, the math coordinator may suggest selecting specific videos from Khan Academy or LearnZillion that the student can watch in the computer lab to review the concept. Alternatively, what if the pressing issue was that students really don’t see how math is relevant to day-to-day activities? The math coordinator may suggest Mathalicious, a program that relates math concepts to pop culture.

Math teachers may not have time to research the latest and greatest technologies since they are buried in the day-to-day work of lesson planning, communicating with parents, attending meetings and, of course, teaching. Math coordinators, on the other hand, have the opportunity to research the market and share opportunities with their math team based on the issues teachers face in the classroom. The dialogue between math coordinators and teachers is extremely important to finding a good fit between the technology solution and the actual need in the classroom. Trying out technology is one thing, but getting results requires a coordinated effort.

2. Defining roles and developing a system

Of course, no one believes that simply telling students to log into a system online is going to magically raise their math achievement.  Technology is much more effective when used with a purpose. In the example above, how do you know if the videos achieved the intended goal of helping the student review the concepts? We won’t know unless we take a look at how the student performs on their homework, quiz, etc. after watching the videos. So now, who is going to create the quiz? Who is going to monitor the progress? Who is going to evaluate whether the videos were effective or not? 

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When implementing technology, new responsibilities are inevitable. But a teacher can’t be given more responsibility without it impacting other areas of his or her work. Something has to give. Since math coordinators are familiar with the constraints on a teacher’s time, they are equipped to lead a discussion about the new roles and responsibilities needed to get the most value out of the chosen technology. 

Coordinating these efforts requires input from the teacher, scheduling time with computers, and developing an evaluation system. There are many moving parts and the limitations on everyone’s time can be a major factor. However, these factors are familiar to math coordinators, which is why they can provide a great deal of leadership in shaping a productive and technologically efficient system.

3. A culture of transparency with teachers, parents, and students

Parent-teacher conferences, report cards and calling home have provided opportunities for communication between parents and teachers. What about all the time that passes between those meetings?   Technology can provide teachers and parents an opportunity to work together every day to ensure that every student makes progress toward his or her goals.  Math coordinators can play a critical role in coaching math teachers on how to make that possible using technology.  A daily report card would not be as useful to a parent or student as understanding what actions they can take to support their child’s learning, based on the student’s performance. These actions, of course, would be determined by the teacher, and informed by the data generated from programs like the ones mentioned above.

Teachers need the parents’ support in making sure every student succeeds and vice versa. Math coordinators can play a critical role in helping teachers develop a communication strategy with parents that involves regular updates to the parents through technology regarding what their child needs to work on. There will be many challenges, such as students or parents not having access to technology at home. However, many of the challenges are familiar to a math coordinator, positioning him or her ideally to think thorough issues and solutions with math teachers. 

Creating a culture of communication between parents and teachers that supports the student can go a long way. For starters, the teacher would have an advocate at home that helps reemphasize the effort required of the student to succeed.

Finally, working with students after school hours can be a challenge which is where involving the parents can become a critical factor. 

For more on how technology can be used to enhance classroom learning, visit us at www.learnbop.com.

Topics: Differentiating Instruction, Resources, Teaching & Learning

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