West Virginia has long been ahead of the curve in implementing educational technology in its schools. Larry Lamb, the state’s math coordinator, talks about the strategies his teachers are using to reach today’s mathematics students.
What are you trying to accomplish with math teachers in your state?
We’re trying to help math teachers become more comfortable with changing their teaching strategies in math, because we realize that today’s students really have changed their learning strategies. We also try to help our teachers, especially in the elementary grades, with mathematics content.
When you say students have changed their learning strategies, what do you mean?
Kids today are learning in a different way and they actually have to see the connection to something, something in real life, a real life application before they’re going to spend much time learning. They need to know why they’re going to do it before they’re going to do it.
Another thing that we have learned is that kids remember what they’ve learned a lot better when they talk with each other. So we are encouraging teachers to let students experience lessons as a group, and talk about what they’re doing.
What is your approach to helping your teachers adopt new strategies of instruction?
What we try to do is model new strategies with master teachers like Kay Toliver, and have our teachers become involved as students and actually experience this new change. We’ve done a lot of this with Kay Toliver, for example, because the strategies that she uses are phenomenal, and we see our teachers get excited and get the idea that they can do something similar.
With this kind of approach our statewide reform movement in mathematics is really picking up steam and moving forward quickly.
Can you give me an example of a project you did with your teachers?
Well, one of the lesson plans that we heard about from Ms. Toliver was the idea of a math trail. So we decided that to take our participants on our river boat here and do “Math on the River”.
As we traveled up one way on the river, they wrote math problems about the math they saw all around them. It turned into a wonderful experience for the teachers. I’ve talked with a few of them who have gone back to their schools and have done math trails around their school. It was all based on the fun they had doing the Math on the River.
You were saying earlier that real world connections are important in the math classroom. Is it true at all grade levels?
I think so. It’s interesting that traditionally we’ve done a pretty good job of this in the elementary schools—making connections between mathematics and money, time and other real life applications. But as soon as kids got to the middle school level we started emphasizing mathematics theory and stopped making connections.
Oddly enough, we noticed that kids didn’t get turned off on math until they got to the sixth or seventh grade—just when we stop connecting what they are learning to what people do with that knowledge. So now we feel it’s especially important that we spend more time making connections at those higher grade levels.
How can technology support what you’re trying to accomplish?
West Virginia is probably one of the best technology states in the country. We were one of the first states probably to have computers in every classroom and teachers have had Internet access for some time. And the Internet it has become a major resource in math instruction.
With funding from IBM and the state department of education, we’ve developed Internet lesson plans for our teachers. They’ve been juried and tested and tried and redone, and by now they’re about as perfect as they can get.
All the teachers have access to these lesson plans, and Internet usage has just grown tremendously as a result. All the lessons are linked to real life applications on the Internet.
So in West Virginia, technology in the classroom and mathematics reform go hand in hand?
I think so, yes.