You won’t find rows of desks. Not here.
Middle school math classrooms here on the GAC campus look and feel differently than most classrooms around metro Atlanta. Instead of “sit and get” instruction, worksheets, and silent practice at their desks, GAC students are fortunate to have a completely different experience.
You’ll see students huddled together around Promethean ActivBoards, searching and tapping and strategizing while playing math games. Scooting around the classroom on wheeled chairs. Writing on tables. Basketball and golf games, creative writing and journal decorating.
This is what a math classroom looks like here at GAC.
There are scavenger hunts around the classroom to find the right answers. And escape room games where only the right answers will allow your group to escape. Large dice rolling across the carpeted floor for lessons in probability. Colorful geometric shapes molded out of Play-Doh for geometry lessons. Buzzers for heated rounds of math Jeopardy.
The goal is to meet these students where they are developmentally, and that means ensuring that these tweens and young teenagers are up and out of their seats often. Academic Dean Lauren Hollier says she has two goals for Middle School math: elevating the program and ensuring that curriculum is fun and meaningful enough that all kids look forward to coming to math each day.
Ms. Hollier has deployed a strong team of dynamic math educators, and together they are transforming the way a math classroom operates: Mr. Robert Maloney, Ms. Tyler Hill, Ms. Emily Houston, and Dr. Laura Markert.
“Kids remember a dynamic environment. We know that when students are moving, their brains are moving,” says Dr. Markert. In her classroom, kids face in different directions each time she switches the instruction. “Something about them turning around and facing a different direction re-sets their attention and signals them to pay attention. I give consistent signals…some that indicate it’s time to work, and different signals that it’s time to listen,” she said.
Ironically, Ms. Lang, 8th grade math teacher, gets her best math teaching ideas from reading education training she received for dyslexia in the Orton-Gillingham method. “Multi-sensory learning is the whole purpose of Orton-Gillingham. Getting kids moving and doing. I think I have taken that and used it in teaching math. Kids like competitions, and I’m a coach in addition to being a teacher. So I bring my coaching into my teaching. Kids like to win, and I’m the most competitive person, so I understand!” she said.
Ms. Lang also knows that that repetition is necessary for math retention, but it’s the repetition of math problems that students often tire of. So she “tricks” the students into repeating math problems by disguising the practice with engaging games she’s created like math “Shoots and Ladders”, classroom putt putt golf, scavenger hunts. While this all seems like a lot of fun, the truth is, students are learning more in math class than ever before. Challenge is really the unspoken name of the game.
The middle school teaching team values persistence and grit above all. “We have teachers who are passionate about math and their teaching specialty. They are engaging and well-educated. At GAC we have the freedom to incorporate different and higher standards. We have the ability to push our kids beyond what’s common,” Ms. Hollier reports.
And surprisingly, communication and creativity, things you’d typically look for in an English class, are top priorities.
Dr. Markert believes that “writing to learn” within middle school math instruction can be powerful. In her class, students chronicle what they’ve learned in math all year long, creating artful pages of their individual math journeys. At the end of the year, the book is bound and students share their math books with younger Spartans in 5th grade. “I try to mold the instruction in a way so that the knowledge they’ve acquired becomes their knowledge. It’s not just me passing it down to them. They’ve got to own it. It’s theirs,” she said.
This dedicated and passionate team of teachers has a strong conviction: There are many ways to solve math problems, and it’s important to show students a variety of ways to be successful in their problem-solving. Communication with students is important to them. “I want to hear your way. How do you solve a problem? Communicating about math enables students to get a deeper understanding,” says Dr. Markert.
Ms. Hollier’s ultimate wish: “Our goal is to provide the highest quality instruction and the tools needed to meet the needs of every middle school student. We want our students to maximize their fullest mathematical potential and feel confident about doing it. That’s a GAC differentiator. Our goal is to build a strong foundation. “