A significant growth in students’ mathematics learning and outcomes is transpiring at Goldrick Elementary in Denver Public Schools. The TCAP math scores for third and fourth graders are dramatically on the rise, thanks to the intense planning and implementation of differentiated instruction by Goldrick teachers and the in-kind, four-year teacher professional development provided by a team of mathematics educators from the University of Colorado Denver School of Education & Human Development (SEHD). The CU Denver team, led by Dr. Ron Tzur, and including Dr. Heather Johnson, Evan McClintock and Rachael Risley collaborated with the dedicated Goldrick principal (Dr. Maria Uribe) and teachers.
To appreciate the substantial mathematics growth, an “apples to apples” comparison was done with Colorado schools having similar demographics of greater than 95 percent of students receiving free and reduced lunch. The comparison focused on growth in the percentage of students who scored at the proficient or advanced TCAP levels. Percentages of Goldrick’s third and fourth graders in these combined categories (TCAP 2013) have now placed them as first and third in the state (respectively) among comparable schools. When considering percentage of growth from 2012 to 2013 in the combined category, Goldrick’s third and fourth graders ranked 10th and 14th in Colorado (respectively).
This sizable change in student outcomes on the state-mandated test seems rooted in a radical shift that the school is making in how it teaches mathematics to its multilingual students,” said Ron Tzur, professor of mathematics education at CU Denver. “First, we are promoting substantial growth in the elementary teachers’ own knowledge of mathematics via in-depth math workshops. Then, through co-teaching opportunities with our highly acclaimed math faculty, we foster changes in teacher practices toward student-adaptive, research-based teaching. Next, we are working on a more focused curriculum that emphasizes core concepts and problem solving (not teaching for the test). We do this through math games and hands-on activities that increase students’ mastery while promoting each and every student’s learning to reason multiplicatively and to mindfully operate in a place value, base ten, number system.”
“Teachers at Goldrick are moving away from just helping students absorb and memorize math facts, toward focusing on culturally and linguistically responsive ways to help students in math. This becomes critically important at an elementary school where 85 percent of the students are designated as English language learners (ELL),” said Tzur. “Manipulatives engage students and help them understand math concepts, solve challenging problems, and make real world connections. They are encouraged to think deeply about their learning and are prepared to defend and explain math responses using complete sentences.”
“A very important factor in the success of Goldrick students was the involvement of the teachers who made sure that students mastered a concept before moving on,” said Dr. Maria Uribe, former principal at Goldrick who has recently joined the University of Colorado Denver faculty. “Teachers are aware that the concepts in math are like a set of stairs. One cannot reach the top by skipping too many steps. Ron, his graduate student Nicola [also a full-time teacher in the school], and the rest of his team, have high expectations for the teachers and the children. They demonstrated great passion for this work and gave the Goldrick teachers more confidence and new strategies to work with all students.”
Tzur has developed several math games that proved particularly helpful for children’s development of number sense, teamwork and strategic thinking. One game involves using M&M candies to create number systems; another game, called Please Go and Bring for Me, promotes making sense of and solving multiplicative problem situations (not just multiplication and division). The math games utilize manipulatives to help students grasp the concept of adding and multiplying in units, then advance to using diagrams and eventually abstract symbols and operations. “Students are intellectually engaged in learning when they play these games,” said Tzur. “They move from constructing basic relationships among number concepts to more complex ideas and mathematical reasoning. In both games, children continually explain, to their peers and to the teacher, the process of reasoning they used to arrive at an answer when making use of manipulatives, such as towers of connecting blocks or M&M candies.”
When a female student was asked about her experiences she replied, “Playing math games helps me learn…When I build towers of cubes, I am learning to multiply the cubes and count them out with my fingers. I love answering the questions in the games. It makes me smarter.”
To celebrate the students’ and teachers’ accomplishments, the School of Education & Human Development hosted a party for the math students, their families and the teachers on Nov. 6, 2013 in the Lawrence Street Center’s Terrace Room. The celebration honored the students’ achievement and, more broadly, the CU Denver/Goldrick partnership. Participants enjoyed cake, balloons and special giveaways. Goldrick math teachers received trophies for their outstanding math instruction.
“We are so happy about the student learning growth that is taking place at Goldrick Elementary,” said Rebecca Kantor, Dean of SEHD. “We know that math achievements early in life give students purpose and more promising futures. Goldrick is a prime example of the power of our school partnerships when we combine a cohesive strategy with innovation and a shared vision around purpose with teachers and the school principal.”
CU Denver faculty work side by side with experienced Goldrick educators. Maria Uribe, a CU Denver PhD alum, led the school with great vision until May of 2013, before she joined the SEHD faculty. She noted that many Goldrick teachers are CU Denver alumni who were hired after performing extremely well during their teaching internships. Thus, Goldrick students’ great progress seems to reflect professor/teacher collaborations, as evidenced by the latest TCAP math results.
During the 2013/14 school year, the CU Denver/Goldrick Elementary math teacher team will be attempting to boost math achievement even further. To this end, they are first concentrating on promoting second grade teachers’ learning to diagnose their students’ math conceptions/schemes (using clinical interviews with paired students and assessments). Next, the teachers will capitalize on the results of their formative assessments to improve classroom situations and energize student learning. Students who experience difficulty mastering a robust concept of number will receive suitable intervention and additional instructional time. This intervention will provide students with the conceptual basis needed to succeed in the advanced mathematical topics awaiting their learning in upper elementary grades, such as multiplicative and fractional reasoning. Concurrently, the team is looking to expand this pilot, in-kind work by applying for funding from local and/or federal sources to benefit more schools in the Denver metro area.