AEP Award Winner Profile: Talking About Math–Multimedia Program Promotes Math Discussion

5 + 5 + 5 = 15. In Ms. Moylan’s first-grade classroom, Allie explains how she solved this problem combining three numbers. Then Sara, having listened carefully to her classmate, repeats back Allie’s explanation, and both students earn a “two-finger clap” from their classmates. When we picture elementary mathematics education, lively classroom discussions are probably not the first thing that comes to mind. Done right, however, such discussions can lead to engaged students and deeper understanding.

Ms. Moylan sums it up this way: “When I first started teaching, I thought it was what came out of my mouth that was going to inspire the students. It’s actually what comes out of their mouths—how they discuss things together and that they learn much more from solving together, collaborating together, and talking together.”

That’s the premise behind Math Solutions’ Classroom Discussions: Seeing Math Discourse in Action, Grades K-6, A Multimedia Professional Learning Resource, winner of this year’s AEP Golden Lamp Award in the Professional Development category. The multimedia program, consisting of two DVDs, a facilitator’s guide, and a CD containing lesson plans and session handouts, provides 75 classroom video clips and 20 professional development sessions. These materials supplement the book, Classroom Discussions: Using Math Talk to Help Students Learn, Grades K-6, Second Edition. The package provides a powerful professional development resource that can be used at the schoolwide or individual level to enhance the teaching of mathematics.

How did the idea for this multimedia program come about? For years Math Solutions has worked to help teachers and students understand the role of talk. “The opportunity to talk about math concepts is highly supportive of students’ ability to learn about the ideas,” says Carolyn Felux, Education Director for Math Solutions.

This notion is supported by research conducted by the authors ofClassroom Discussions on the impact of discussion on learning. “Their willingness to publish and their interest in influencing classroom practice led to the first and second editions of the book and then to the supporting video and professional development materials,” Felux notes.

“We filmed in October 2010, and the materials came out in April 2011,” says Editorial Manager Jamie Ann Cross. “This was a fast turn-around time, and the authors were integrally involved.” The four-day classroom filming ultimately yielded two DVDs comprising five hours of footage and 75 separate video clips.

“Preparing the multimedia program was a monumental task supported by careful planning, direction for teachers, and collaboration,” adds Felux. “The editing process had everyone’s fingers in it; there were lots of people helping make this the best it could be. Everyone had a clear vision of how this product can support teachers.”

Most teachers use the materials in group study sessions to help them put into practice the strategies outlined in the book. “Being able to see the strategies in action is really helpful,” says Felux. “Many math teachers don’t have a good understanding of what kids might talk about. We want people to have a clear vision of what’s possible, and I think the videos do a good job of showing that.”

The most unique aspect of the package is the authentic video footage of master teachers in action. “These are real classrooms and real students, and I think it’s extremely helpful to see teachers who are really good,” Cross says.

With the Common Core State Standards placing emphasis on having students be able to communicate their understanding of mathematical concepts, this multimedia program can provide much-needed support. “We hope this helps teachers be more confident in their ability to teach math and aid students’ success in learning,” says Felux. “This is a really useful resource for teaches as they transition into Common Core.”

“It was a labor of love and commitment by the authors,” Felux adds. “Their expertise in helping teachers learn is built into the facilitator’s guide, which shows teachers HOW to view the videos. It’s like having a master teacher there with you.”

Math Solutions is primarily a professional development company, Cross notes, and the publishing side supports professional development rather than the other way around. “In our world, those who do our PD often are our authors,” Cross says. “They are in sync with what the company does in the field, and they translate that into their books.” That involvement in the classroom also provides feedback guiding both product development and marketing.

That model worked exceptionally well in the case of Classroom Discussions, according to the AEP judges who reviewed the product. “The idea of having students discuss math as a way to better understand mathematical concepts makes a lot of sense, and this multimedia resource provides everything teachers need to put this into practice,” wrote one judge. “The step-by-step instructions provided in the book, supplemented by the video clips of the principles in action, make this an extremely valuable resource for K-6 educators. Well done!”

“The concept is a smart one, aimed at deepening teachers’ ability to conduct investigations with their class of the reasoning behind math operations,” commented a second judge. “The production values are impressive. The videos are highly engaging, beautifully shot, and short, targeted examples that illuminate the concepts being examined. The booklet is crisply laid out and well organized. One has the feeling that a trainer who deploys the content well will be equipping elementary math teachers with wonderful tools that will help them deliver clear messages as well as manage the classroom process better.”

“We view Math Solutions as a leader in the field, and winning the AEP Golden Lamp is like putting a stamp of approval on this product—it’s like winning an Oscar,” says Cross. “So much hard work went into this product in such a short period of time. The authors were thrilled as well; winning the award is great on so many dimensions.”

Likewise, Cross appreciates the importance of her company’s broader involvement in AEP. “Especially in this time when publishing is changing so dramatically, to have an organization like AEP that brings us all together and gives us guidance on what’s happening out there is crucial,” Cross concludes. “In the same way that we provide professional development for teachers, AEP provides professional development for publishers.”

Learn more about Math Solutions’ Classroom Discussions: Seeing Math Discourse in Action, Grades K-6, A Multimedia Professional Learning Resource.