Springdale teachers experience new strategies for involving students in lessons

Jackie Escobar (from left), Amy Chacon and Michael Martinez work on a math problem Thursday in their Algebra II class at Springdale High School. The class uses more group-based learning to understand the material.
Jackie Escobar (from left), Amy Chacon and Michael Martinez work on a math problem Thursday in their Algebra II class at Springdale High School. The class uses more group-based learning to understand the material.

SPRINGDALE -- Pairing School District curriculum writers with classroom teachers gives both a chance to see how students respond to strategies intended to keep them on task and talking about their thinking with peers.


Rachel Carethers, teacher on special assignment for secondary math, helps Carolina Ulloa (from left), Abril Guerra and Maria Manjarrez work through a math problem Thursday in their Algebra II class at Springdale High School. Carethers helps to implement a new style for teaching math that includes group work and cooperation.


Traci Tompkins, math teacher at Springdale High School, assists her students with a problem Thursday during Algebra II at the school. Tompkins’ class is using a newer system for learning that involves more group-based problem solving.

Springdale School District's curriculum department introduced a training program in January to help ensure training provided to teachers has a direct impact on students, said Marcia Smith, assistant superintendent for sixth through 12th grade education.

Fast Facts

Springdale School District TOSAs

• Teachers on special assignment

• District employs 18

• Teachers assigned to develop and write curriculum and to support classroom teachers with instructional strategies

• Teachers on special assignment work in five areas: literacy, math, social studies, science and technology

Source: Springdale School District

Smith also has a goal to help teachers increase the active participation and discussion of students in their classrooms, skills the state's teacher evaluation system encourages, she said.

The program, Collaboration Plan Innovative Teaching (IT), is in its infancy and involves two district math curriculum writers working with instructional facilitators and classroom teachers in middle, junior high and high schools, Smith said. The curriculum writers in Springdale are math teachers on special assignment.

District officials picked teachers for the program who were known for trying new strategies, their willingness to give input to peers on their teams and to have other teachers visit their classrooms, Smith said.

This semester, a math teacher-on-special-assignment, a campus instructional facilitator and a classroom teacher working together to plan at least three lessons, Smith said. The sessions not only include the math content, but also consider strategies for keeping students engaged in learning.

Jessica Yarbrough, an eighth-grade math teacher at Southwest Junior High School, wanted to build a voluntary activity into her lesson this month to extend the learning for students who wanted to challenge themselves, she said.

She also experimented by having students apply the Pythagorean theorem, a math formula used for solving problems involving right triangles, to figure out which of two men would reach a taco cart the fastest.

The planning is based on what Yarbrough's students need and where they are in the curriculum, said Jennifer Raabe, a math teacher-on-special-assignment who is paired with Yarbrough.

Yarbrough and Raabe spent a day teaching the lesson on the Pythagorean theorem they developed through the collaboration. Students watched a video introducing a scenario that ended with a question of whether Ben or Dan would reach a taco cart first. The two men were to start from the same point, but each would take a different path to the taco cart.

Yarbrough asked students to guess what they expected the answer to be.

She could have asked students to raise their hands, but instead, she used a different strategy to engage all of her students. Every student participated by standing and facing the front classroom wall if they thought Dan would win, the back wall if their guess was Ben and a side wall for a tie.

Yarbrough gave them short time to find a partner to discuss their reasoning and to return to their seats.

The discussion took less than two minutes, Smith said.

"You know who's using the vocabulary," she said. "No one's off task. It keeps them up and moving."

Yarbrough had students present their work to the class.

Students involved in the challenge activity also had to determine where the taco cart would have to be for Ben and Dan to arrive at the same time.

The experience gave Raabe a chance to see the district's written curriculum in action and how students respond, she said.

Yarbrough had the opportunity to see math lessons taught at Central Junior High School, Helen Tyson Middle School and Har-Ber High School, she said. The other two eighth-grade math teachers at Southwest have visited Yarbrough's classroom, as have teachers from other subjects.

"I have grown as a teacher," she said. "It's different teaching styles. You're learning what other possibilities there are."

Southwest Principal Shannon Tisher has seen an immediate impact on her staff. Yarbrough and Raabe are excited to work together, and that has been fueled by the enthusiasm and interest from the other teachers in the math department.

While teachers follow curriculum written by the district, they present the curriculum in their own way and with their own strategies, Tisher said. The collaboration has given all Southwest teachers a chance to see strategies in action in Yarbrough's class they have not tried.

"The first day the math department went and watched," Tisher said. "By the end of the period, they were already talking about what they saw and applied it to their own class."

NW News on 04/15/2017

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