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Principals learn strategies to help math teachers

School may be out for the kids, but today, class was in session for Idaho Falls principals. It is part of a week-long conference focused on math instruction.

“It is absolutely essential to have productive struggle. The teaching and learning of mathematics, the doing, means running into roadblocks,” said Cory Bennett, who led the conference. Bennett is an assistant professor of mathematics at Idaho State University.

In the morning session of Tuesday’s class, Bennett told District 91 principals that math teachers often give students too much support. It comes from wanting students to be successful, but it can hinder their learning. So, the group reviewed video from actual classrooms, and discussed what did and did not work.

“The focus is actually on the students entirely, the work they do, what they say matters tremendously. There is a lot to be understood about how the students talk about the math, not just to the teacher but each other,” said Bennett.

Bennett introduced a “smart pen” to each principal. The pen writes in a special notebook and has a camera and microphone.

“You can’t take notes on everything, you can’t get the exact words some times, so it will record the conversations going on,” said Bennett. It’s useful for principals who observe classes. The data can be uploaded to a computer, so they can listen to their recordings and review notes electronically.

“I can’t wait to play with it. We have to get some software downloaded before we can play with it, but I read about it and I thought this was really cool,” said Natalie Clement, principal at Temple View Elementary.

A grant from the state pays for the conference and the technology.

“Technology allows us to capture student thinking in real time. (The data can) be used later on in professional development or professional support,” said Christine Avila, math coordinator for the Idaho State Department of Education.

This week’s class comes just after D91 adopted the math in focus curriculum.

“I think that this focus we have here today helps us remember it’s not about what curriculum you have. You can buy in to any math adoption, what matters is what the teachers are doing in the classroom every single day,” said Clement.

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