The math teachers at my school — Castle Park Middle in Chula Vista, Calif. — face the same challenges moving students to math excellence and mastery as so many teachers across the nation. Students must learn a difficult common core curriculum, catch up on missing skills from previous grades, as well as complete numerous rigorous practice problems. Students are often not engaged in this process due to variety of factors including poverty, different learning styles and English language issues. Some of our at-risk students find it easier to give up rather than face a daunting, difficult path to math proficiency.
As part of the Granger Turnaround Model, my team and I addressed attendance and behavioral issues, identified struggling students and arranged for time-on-task both in school and after school for academic supports. The missing piece was a set of math lessons that was rigorous enough to move students toward proficiency, yet engaging enough to keep our at-risk students excited, motivated and focused on mastering math.
Playing on the successes of a nearby middle school, our math teachers implemented a program of online math courses that uses instructional songs and interactive games to engage and support students, in particular students that struggle with English and at-risk students. We integrated the courses as the primary math intervention used for academic supports within the GTM. By adding song, video and games to instruction, our lessons now present difficult math topics and concepts to students in the form of pop music videos, which is a familiar and comfortable environment for them to learn in. The music draws students into the rigorous math lessons, increases attention and increases students’ ability to remember key ideas long after the lesson is complete.
The combination of song videos and interactive games has become a powerful tool for math learning in our school. After students watch a math-based song video– (formerly known as a math lesson — they immediately start to solve math problems in an interactive format similar to that of the new online end-of-year tests. This means dragging and dropping to solve equations, drawing graphs, understanding fractions, or modeling various concepts like the complicated ones found in geometry. This format of song videos and interactive questions with audio-visual remediation taps directly into their well-honed media skills from a lifetime of music, television and video games. Suddenly the rigors of middle-school math are transformed into the familiar world of modern media where they can use their skills and experience early success.
We saw learning transferred to students’ math classes – improving effort, attitude and success across the board – and lead to fewer trips to the office, which means more time in the classroom. This cycle has given students the confidence, hope and drive needed to be successful. When a majority of students experience success it creates a tipping point in the culture of a math class and in my case the whole school.
We have seen these lessons engage every facet of our diverse student population, increasing participation among the 96% minority students, 88% economically-disadvantaged and 65% English language learners in our school, like no other initiative before.
As a result of both the hard work of our math teachers and introduction of GTM, our school realized impressive gains in math. Within one academic year, the entire school — including our economically-disadvantaged students, English learners and Hispanic students — made double-digit gains in math proficiency. My school crossed the critical 800 API mark for meeting state targets, in large part due to gains in math.
In the upcoming school year, math teachers face a difficult task teaching new standards and preparing students for rigorous new tests. At Castle Park, we found that using high-interest math support lessons with song videos and games can make this process much more engaging for students. We have seen “I give up” replaced with “This is fun!” In the process, my math teachers have become more effective bringing students up to math excellence. What more could a principal ask for?
Robert Bleisch has worked as a classroom teacher, after-school program coordinator and building administrator and is currently in his second year as the principal at Castle Park Middle School in Chula Vista, Calif. While working as an after-school program coordinator, Bleisch developed the Granger Turnaround Model (GTM) and was credited with helping turn around Granger and National City Middle School, two of the highest poverty schools in the country. The song-based lessons he refers to in this post are offered by CA based Learning Upgrade.