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Columbia Public Schools: The Making of a Math Culture

Like many districts across the nation, Columbia Public Schools had worked hard over the years to get students excited about reading. Math, in comparison, had been a different story. But all this changed a couple of years ago, thanks to the district’s intentional shift to focus on creating a math experience for students that is challenging, rewarding and consistent.

“In addition to strong mathematical content, we also want to see classrooms buzzing with conversation, where students are presenting and teachers are more facilitators than drivers of conversation — that is what we want at every school,” says Dana Hibbard, District Math Coordinator at Columbia Public Schools.

Deeper Math Understanding and Higher Achievement with ST Math

To reach this goal, Columbia Public Schools piloted the ST Math game-based learning program to support math instruction in one classroom. After seeing the students’ increased excitement and achievement levels, they expanded the program to 7 elementary schools and 6 middle schools, reaching over 4,500 students.

"ST Math has been an amazing opportunity for our kids! They move at their own pace to really understand a concept before moving on. And they gain experiences that help them in their regular math instruction."
 Courtney Lewis, Teacher, Parkade Elementary

Parkade Elementary in particular has seen notable results after implementing ST Math. After two years of using the program, the school’s grade 3-5 test results showed 9.4% growth in number of students scoring proficient or better. Compare this to the decline in percentage of students meeting or exceeding proficiency in these same grade levels across the state of Missouri, and we see why Hibbards wants to replicate Parkade’s approach in schools across the district.

CPS Top MAP Achiever - Parkade Elementary.png

Experiencing Productive Struggle to Build Perseverance

More than just test scores, Hibbard is excited about the potential that ST Math has to help shift the general perception of math across the district. Students are developing and practicing skills that go beyond the classroom, including perseverance and collaboration. “When they get stuck, they stop and say, ‘Okay, I am going to try again.’ This is not just a math skill, but a life skill--to be able to stick with a problem until you figure it out.”

This doesn’t mean students are just trying again and again using the same approach. They’re experiencing productive struggle -- actively learning from their failures. This is uniquely supported by the instructive feedback from ST Math. For every puzzle solution posed by the student, ST Math animates the visual representations of math to provide immediate, informative feedback. The animation shows why the chosen solution was correct or incorrect and provides information students can use to adjust their strategy. Engaging in this type of productive struggle builds perseverance for challenging problem solving.

Teachers are an integral part of the process, says Hibbard: “One of the really cool things to watch is when a student asks for help in ST Math and the teacher doesn’t know the answer. The kids struggle and need support and the teachers have to ask probing questions to guide the students’ thinking. They learn together!”

Spreading the Vision

Hibbard finds that the schools seeing the best results are those implementing ST Math with fidelity. They have principals that are deeply invested and engaged with both the teachers and students around data and goal setting. Hibbard wants students, teachers and administrators to regularly discuss the math concepts students are exploring, “Using ST Math as a whole class is a great way to introduce topics and generate conversation.” She wants to see a district-wide culture that celebrates the persistence, determination and math success ST Math builds.

One of the ways Hibbard plans to help more teachers make the transition from using ST Math as a supplementary program to incorporating ST Math into the core curriculum is through a new professional development classroom. The lab classroom will offer opportunities to model a variety of best practices as well as to receive feedback, and will spark new levels of collaboration district-wide. Educator collaboration like this will help the district achieve the high level of rigor and consistency envisioned for their math culture.

[Download the Columbia Public Schools Profile in Success]

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Brie Albert

About the Author

Brienne is a Director of Education Success and former Elementary School Teacher. She speaks on behalf of the MIND Research Institute across the country to illuminate the power and necessity of neuroscience-based, interactive math software that is designed to teach all students how math really works.


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