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FWCS presentation tries to ease math concerns

November 20, 2018

Four months into the school year, parents and students remain frustrated over changes to Fort Wayne Community Schools’ math program : and they let staff know it Monday.

An informational session about an online curriculum supplement attracted more than 50 people at the district’s Family and Community Engagement Center. School board members, administrators and at least one teacher sat among the crowd.

In her welcome, Chief Academic Officer Tracy Reed indicated amazement that so many people would give up a night during Thanksgiving week to learn about math.

Parents : some of whom described frustration in trying to help their children study : seemed eager to get answers.

Laurie Ferry, a consultant with the online math program Agile Mind, was only a few slides into her presentation before a parent paused her with a question.

Used by middle and high school students, Agile Mind develops conceptual understanding about math by incorporating math discussions into real-world contexts, such as a skateboarder’s movements tracked by a motion detector.

This differs from the way adults were taught math, Ferry said.

“We learned math with a procedural approach,” she said.

The school board approved an agreement totaling $421,300 with Agile Mind Educational Holdings in May; the contract runs through the end of the 2019-20 academic year. Along with the curriculum supplement, Agile Mind is providing ongoing professional learning.

Training for teachers was a common concern among parents. Reed described the professional learning opportunities available to educators, but one man was skeptical that teachers are seeking support.

“I’ll tell you right now they’re afraid to talk to you,” he said.

He and other attendees did not identify themselves by name when speaking.

Ferry is modeling lessons to middle and high school teachers and will have visited every secondary school by Dec. 13. A teacher from Snider said the experience was helpful for him and his colleagues.

“We’ve been better ever since then,” he said.

Parents also wanted to know why students who previously aced math are struggling. A high school sophomore in attendance described the switch as a “harsh transition.”

Some struggle is expected, Ferry said.

The former approach to teaching math was low in complexity whereas educators are now asking students to be problem-solvers and critical thinkers, requiring higher-level thinking, Ferry said.

A drop in grades isn’t unusual in the first year, especially in the first semester, Ferry said, but it should get better as students adjust.

“The problem-solving will come,” Ferry said.

asloboda@jg.net

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