## Math Circles Help Develop Students’ Problem Solving Skills

At MetaMetrics, we get excited when we see enthusiastic students and educators in our community! Just down the street from our offices is exactly what you can find on Saturday mornings: students, parents, and educators working together to solve challenging math problems as part of the Chapel Hill Math Circle headquartered at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

What is a math circle? A math circle is a group of students of any grade level coming together to share their passion for math through exploring challenging math problems or special topics. Math circles benefit students by providing the chance for them to solve unfamiliar problems in unique ways. In traditional math classrooms, students often learn a new skill and then immediately apply that skill to a set of practice problems. This process does not give students the opportunity to determine which mathematical concept or solution strategy should be applied to a given problem. In math circles, students see problems out of context from classroom instruction, which helps them develop the ability to solve problem, make arguments, critique others’ reasoning, and persevere through difficult tasks.

In the Chapel Hill Math Circle’s beginning group, students in first- through third-grade solve problems such as this one:

A male parrot and a female parrot are talking. The one with a yellow tail says, “I’m a boy.” The one with a blue tail says, “I’m a girl.” If at least one of them is lying, who is who? Explain your answer.

This is an example of the type of problems the advanced group of high school students would solve:

A polyhedron is made up of pentagons and hexagons. How many pentagons must there be? Prove that no other number of pentagons is possible.

These problems are designed to solicit deep thinking and require students to try multiple solution strategies, collaborate, propose and test conjectures, and communicate ideas using valid mathematical arguments. At the end of the school year, the math circle concludes with a Julia Robinson Math Festival, a full day of problem solving, games, and prizes, all related to math!

For more information about math circles, including how to find a math circle near you or how to start your own math circle, visit the National Association of Math Circles at https://www.mathcircles.org/. For more information specifically about the Chapel Hill Math Circle and the corresponding Triangle Math Teachers’ Circle that provides professional development for local teachers, visit https://chapelhillmathcircle.org/. For more information on the Julia Robinson Math Festival, visit http://jrmf.org/.

Photo Courtesy of the Chapel Hill Math Circle

## Educators Needed for Early Reading Focus Group

Are you a kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, or 3rd grade teacher, librarian, or reading specialist? Are you interested in hearing about the latest Lexile research in early-reading and sharing your feedback?

Over several years, numerous research studies were conducted to examine the characteristics and features of books intended for early-reading students. This research investigated predictors of text complexity of these books and led to the enhancement of the Lexile® Analyzer (the tool used to determine the Lexile measure of texts).

We are looking for early education professionals to join us in our Durham, NC office and participate in a 90 minute focus group on our outreach efforts related to more precise measurement of K-3 books. Each participant will receive a \$50 Barnes & Noble gift card.

## Fighting Summer Learning Loss

In partnership with the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), MetaMetrics freely provides the annual “Chief’s Summer Learning Challenge” to state education agencies to develop and sustain their summer reading programs. Led by CEO and President Malbert Smith, Ph.D., who serves on the National Summer Learning Association’s Board of Directors, the summer learning challenge is a favorite project among the MetaMetrics staff. It is fulfilling work that relies on the collaboration and dedication across the MetaMetrics team—from engineering to government relations to the marketing department. This year MetaMetrics celebrates its 5th year of leading the fight against summer learning loss.

This summer, MetaMetrics collaborated with 21 state departments of education to combat the negative effects of summer reading loss. Among the 21 states participating in the Chief’s Summer Learning Challenge, the Lexile “Find a Book” search tool, Summer Reading Log and Summer Reading Pledge were promoted to encourage targeted reading practice. These promotional efforts have not gone unnoticed! For example in Kentucky, with many thanks to the tireless efforts of Kathy Mansfield at the KY Department of Education, over 7,200 summer reading pledges have been submitted. The Summer Reading Pledge is available until August 31st, and so far more than 120,000 books have been pledged to read nationwide.

MetaMetrics also leads a charge against summer math loss. The Summer Math Challenge launched in 2013, and has gained great momentum and popularity over the years. Participants have reported:

“I think that this is a great COST-EFFECTIVE activity for ALL parents. I look forward to each activity so that I have “scheduled learning” time for the summer with my daughter.”

“The summer math challenge was great…the exercises were right on target and fun.

This summer, 19 state education agencies have promoted the Summer Math Challenge through press releases, listserv emails and social media outreach. To see which states particpated this year, and past years, visit: https://www.quantiles.com/content/summer-math-challenge/state-participants/. Like the resources for the Chief’s Summer Learning Challenge, the Summer Math Challenge is made freely available to all participants. For more information about the summer math and reading initiatives, visit: https://www.quantiles.com/content/summer-math-challenge/ and https://lexile.com/chiefs-challenge/.

## Teaching Math with Storybooks

By reading and discussing stories with children, you can gain some insight to how they think. Herbert Ginsburg, a professor of psychology and education at Teachers College Columbia University suggests that reading and discussing math storybooks with your child can help set the stage for meaningful mathematical achievements in school.

Certain books, such as counting and shape books are centered on learning math. However, there are also many books that have embedded mathematical ideas in the stories. For example, when Goldilocks sees Baby Bear’s bed and realizes it is too small, she compares the size of the beds to the bears. By doing this, she then realizes that there is a simple correlation between the two: the smaller or larger the bear, the smaller or larger the bed.

Storybooks deal with mathematical information informally with patterns, spatial relations, measurements, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. When reading books with your child ask questions about what’s happening in the story, make predictions of what will happen next, and try to find the embedded mathematical skills.

The following ideas may promote your child’s math learning:

• Read books that you both find interesting.
• Talk with your child about what is happening in the story.
• Use mathematical language to describe and explain events in the book, (this square has four sides and they are all the same length, this is the biggest, which weighs the most) this should also keep your child engaged.
• Think about your own math experiences and if they are negative, try not to transmit those feelings.

Reading stories is a wonderful way to help your child understand new mathematical skills. To help you along, we have math literature guides on Quantiles.com that can be used to introduce new mathematical skills. Literature guides are provided as a resource for the Quantile Skill and Concept (QSC) they are associated with.

Ginsburg, H. P. (2016, February 2). Finding the Math in Storybooks for Young Children. KQED News. Retrieved from http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/02/02/finding-the-math-in-storybooks-for-young-children/

## Bridging the Gap Between High School and the Work Force

While the focus on college and career readiness in our education system is not a new idea, and while progress has been made, students overall are still not adequately prepared for life after high school. According to research published last year by Achieve — a nonprofit education reform organization dedicated to raising academic standards and graduation requirements, improve assessments, and strengthen accountability — roughly half of all high schoolers report gaps in high school preparation and the working world.

High schoolers are not the only ones shouldering the consequences of this lack of preparation though. Employers across the country are agreeing that there is a disconnect between the skills that graduates have and the skills that they need. Common themes are lack of “soft skills” such as effective communication, team work, punctuality, etc., as well as a lack of knowledge in critical STEM areas such as basic math and science prerequisite skills. Scott McLemore, technical workforce development manager for Honda North America, Inc., has experienced this in his industry first-hand and discusses how, “There is a severe shortage of people entering the manufacturing field, so much so that it could eventually result in millions of jobs going unfilled due to either a lack of interest, or a lack of the required skills.”

So how do we go about building this bridge? One promising solution is through partnerships between high schools and institutions of higher education. An excellent example of this is P-TECH, a public high school in Brooklyn, NY. These partnerships have been made to meet the growing demand for job candidates with STEM skills. Through this model, students spend six years taking both standard high school courses and classes specifically focused on a certain profession. These credits can amount to an associate degree as well as an industry-specific certification upon graduation. The goal is to have students earn college credit sooner while simultaneously gaining hands on experience. The result of this has been nothing short of optimistic. For example, in 2014 the four-year high school graduation rate for early college students in New York was 86.9 percent, compared with the citywide average of 68.4 percent, and of 205 seniors who graduated this past year, 57 earned an associate degree.

## The Foundation of Education

So often we get caught up in the negativity surrounding education. Whether that’s funding, adjusting the curriculum, or tragic events. In the midst of this media coverage it is far too easy to overlook the people whose work forms the foundation of our education system: our teachers.

Teachers help shape students, they help mold them, encourage them, spark their creativity, give them things to aspire to. They give students the means to reach goals they didn’t think they could meet, or to have dreams they never thought they could have. Teachers do all this despite long hours, low pay, student diversity, and more. In light of this, NPR has created a series called “50 Great Teachers” to recognize what often goes unrecognized — great teachers. Teachers who make an impact. Teachers who go above and beyond not for their own benefit, but because they genuinely care about the future and development of our students.

This series features everything from swim teachers who focus on earning student’s unwavering trust to a principal who dedicated years of his life to transforming the success rate of senior exams at his school from 12% to 100%. These stories give insight to what goes on behind the scenes in the lives of teachers. It exposes what often goes unnoticed to the public — persistent dedication. It spotlights teachers like Rodney Carey. Carey was a bail bondsman who couldn’t shake the fact that most of the students he was bailing out of jail, who had an upbringing much like his own, were underserved and had scarce opportunities available to them. He decided then to dedicate his life to improving this through teaching. Carey remarks,  “I know that you cannot save everybody,” he says. “But if one of them could just go along, complete his education, go to college, and I see him in the future doing something positive with his life, that makes me think that what I was doing is all worthwhile.”

This series will give you perspective on the uplifting aspects of our schools and hopefully encourage you to look past the negativity and appreciate the positive influence teachers are having on our students, despite numerous obstacles.

## More Math at Home, Better Performance at School

Few would argue that our society privileges mathematical and the scientific disciplines over the humanities. Yet, well before studies concluded reading to your children will help them learn phonetic and phonemic awareness parents’ have been reading to their children. How many have done algebraic equations or recited times tables as they settle their children down to bed? Simply, we may all agree on the importance of mathematic and scientific skills in the 21st century, but at home thoughtful and concerned parents continue to just promote linguistic and reading skills.

It might be time, though, for parents to begin encouraging their children in math as with literature. A new study by Talia Berkowitz and other faculty at the University of Chicago— featured in Sciencesheds light on how parental math talk can greatly improve a student’s ability. In fact, just putting aside a few times a week for high-quality math discussion can significantly help students learn.

Of course, one of the reason’s reading is something many parents share with their children is many people have access to books. Reading with your kids is something most parents can do. But math is something many people feel less adept at sharing with their children. Fortunately, MetaMetrics has material to assist! Math@Home is a free resource targeted at assisting parents to develop meaningful lessons matched to students’ Quantile scores. It even offers instructional assistance which parallel many math textbooks assigned to students.

Similarly, many parents may be familiar with the “Summer Slide” in reading. This slide affects mathematical skills as well. To keep Math skills fresh and sharp instead of atrophy, MetaMetrics offers the Summer Math Challenge! The Summer Math Challenge is a free opportunity from June to July to help keep students learning instead of losing math skills over break!

## Coding the Curriculum

Years ago, schools across the United States widely offered Latin classes as an important part of a student’s education. Beyond allowing students to read great classics in their original language, studying Latin gave students tools for learning they could for the rest of their lives. The process of learning Latin allowed students to become familiar with a specific informational system, while also teaching them systematic thinking. This type of thinking is incredibly valuable, as it can be applied to all other learning a person does during their lifetime.

Nowadays, however, Latin classes are rare, and are often seen as an elitist indulgence. But without Latin classes, how will students gain this important system of thought? In a growing number of schools across America, and even the world, the answer is coding.

In an increasingly technological world, coding seems the obvious replacement for an antiquated form of communication. Not only does coding prepare students to have some level of mastery over the technology that surrounds them, but it also teaches the type of systematic thinking that Latin had in the past, providing students with the tools they will need as they continue to learn. Although it may seem like a niche subject relegated to computer science classes, teachers are finding ways to incorporate coding into a multitude of subjects. Students can use it in art class to create complicated patterns, or in English class to reenact scenes from Macbeth. As Tony Wan from EdSurge says, the addition of coding to this wide array of subjects returns “creativity, tinkering, and exploration to the learning process.” Coding teaches students problem-solving skills and inventive thinking – abilities they can use in the rest of their academic endeavors, as well as their everyday lives.

By incorporating coding into almost any subject a student can take, schools allow their pupils to look at information in a different conceptual light, and build fluency with coding language. This fluency will continue to be important even as the students graduate and enters the workforce, especially as an increasing number of industries add technical elements to their companies. Businesses are constantly increasing their online presence with custom websites and creating their own apps, and are looking for people who know how to code to create and maintain these tools. Even industries such as fashion and music are looking for coders to employ. By teaching students coding from a young age, schools are giving them an advantage in today’s competitive job market.

Proponents of coding suggest starting off children as young as possible, and there has been an upsurge in the production of toys that involve coding, like Dash and Dot by Wonder Workshop, that make the process fun and engaging. These toys allow children to become familiar with coding, even at a basic level, before they even enter school. The robots allow for open-ended play, giving children complete control over what the toys do, and beginning their experience with systematic thought. For those who don’t have access to these types of toys, many elementary schools across the country are beginning to incorporate coding into their curriculums. This act of teaching coding in school also plays an important role in demystifying the process, showing that it is not just for boys who are innately talented at it, but can be taught to anyone, including girls. This can help equalize the gender disparity in STEM fields, giving both genders the same chance to make their way in math and science fields.

## AERA Emergent Reader Symposium, 2013

During the 2013 American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Meeting in San Francisco, California, a team of MetaMetrics® researchers along with colleagues from other institutions presented the results of a two-year emergent reader text-complexity study.

Here’s a summary of the research and the implications:

• The research was achieved by having young students read texts and also by having teachers gauge the texts’ complexity.

•  As a result of the emergent reader research, the Lexile® scale was enhanced; now any early-grades text can be placed on the Lexile text-complexity scale.

• The enhanced Analyzer incorporates several text-complexity indicators, including word structure demand, word meaning demand, sentence-level characteristics, and cross-sentence features that model patterning and repetition found in many emergent texts.

What makes the Lexile scale so unique in the field is the degree to which it uses empirical data from students and educators in determining the text complexity of early grades. In comparison, most other text-complexity measures are derived solely from text analysis.

The study was completed by a team from MetaMetrics comprised of; Dr. Heather Koons, Director, Consulting and Development Services and The University of North Carolina Clinical Assistant Professor, Dr. Kim Bowen, Lexile Research Associate, Dr. Jill Fitzgerald, Distinguished Research Scientist and The University of North Carolina Emerita and Research Professor, Mr. Jeff Elmore, Research Engineer, Dr. Mary Ann Simpson, Sr. Psychometrician, Dr. Robin Baker, Director Analytical Services, Dr. Ellie E. Sanford-Moore, SVP Research and Development and Dr. A. Jackson Stenner, Chairman, CEO and Co-founder and The University of North Carolina Research Professor.

The team was joined by Dr. Elfrieda Hiebert, President and CEO of TextProject.org and Amy Clark, Graduate Research Assistant at Kansas University. Dr. P. David Pearson was a discussant at the AERA presentation.

The emergent reader work will be incorporated into the Lexile® Analyzer this fall.

## Egg Cartons and Collaboration

Very, very early in my teaching career a more seasoned colleague shared with me his lamentation on the profession: As teachers, we are the eggs; the school is our egg carton. Each of us is separated off into our own little protective compartment—our classroom—never touching, never interacting, never discussing.

A new report from the National Center for Literacy Education, Remodeling Literacy Learning: Making Room for What Works, appears to suggest that little has changed in the last 20 years in that regard. According to its findings, only 40% of educators have the opportunity to co-plan with colleagues more than once a month. And yet, co-planning is the one professional learning experience survey respondents value the most. In fact, a majority of educators have less than one hour per week to work with other members of their learning teams. (A one-page infographic summarizing the report’s findings is also available.)

For a profession firmly focused on developing a love of life-long learning, this reality may seem counter-intuitive. However, the pressures of time and available resources too often dictate policy. The good news, as the report also states, is that many of the building blocks to begin to rectify this problem may be already in place: educator teams, online professional networks, smart use of student data, and—perhaps most importantly—instructional coaches and school librarians.

Changing the climate and culture of our schools to embrace collaboration may seem a daunting task. Policymakers at the school, district, state, and national level all have a role in the kind of systemic remodeling for which the report calls. But, as classroom teachers, we must be that change. Now, as classrooms across the country begin the heavily lifting of implementing new standards and striving for college and career readiness, the work becomes more important than ever. This may the time to finally break free from our Styrofoam sarcophagi, to escape our egg-carton mentality, and model for our students the kind of life-long learning we desire to see in them.

MetaMetrics is an educational measurement organization. Our renowned psychometric team develops scientific measures of student achievement that link assessment with targeted instruction to improve learning.