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ENGAGING Teens In Their Learning – A Year Long PD Experience

The Athena High School Math Department (an amazing professional learning community) focused this year on engaging students in their own learning and ensuring that all students learn relevant mathematics.  Using Dr. Vermette’s ENGAGING Framework, teachers (math and special ed) and an administrator (Mrs. Goodwine rocks!) collaborated and reflected on the various factors that produce high level learning experiences for students.  The eight factors are: Entice effort through positive relationships, Negotiate meaning, Group collaboratively, Active learning, Graphic organizers, Intelligence interventions, Note making, and Grade wisely.  More information on these factors can be found HERE.

Many Athena math teachers participated in a book study of Vermette’s (2009) book ENGAGING Teens in Their Own Learning.  The teachers met seven times throughout the year to discuss their thoughts and reflections on the book.  The book challenged many assumptions and beliefs that we had about education.  The book promoted lively discussion around what is actually practical in education versus the utopia of education, specifically in math classrooms.  Some ENGAGING activities that we discussed are listed here:

Earlier in the year, Dr. Vermette came to Athena to present to the Athena High School math and special education departments on the “ENGAGING Framework in Secondary Mathematics.”  The workshop was filled with collaboration, reflection, activity, and discussion about the aspects of his “ENGAGING Framework.”  Vermette also shared his thoughts on the age of standards, technology, 21st century skills, Common Core Curriculum, teacher accountability, standardized tests, and increased innumeracy.

In March, a group of Athena educators took a field trip to Niagara University to  participate in a custom designed professional development by Paul Vermette, Karrie Jones, and Jennifer Jones.  A general theme was to build with the knowledge in their heads, not yours.  Vermette said that teaching is not telling; teaching is “sparking thinking.”  One of the activities that we participated in was self-assessing a current lesson by answering the following questions:

  1. How do you build productive relationships with every student? How do their individual (and group) differences affect these efforts?
  2. How do you allow students to develop their own individualized understanding of the important content you teach them?
  3. Under what conditions would you use teams, peer interactions, cooperative learning and/or paired tasks? How do you do it?
  4. How do you use active learning strategies? How do you embed assessment into the instructional process?
  5. How do you use graphic organizers and reading strategies?
  6. How do you use multiple intelligences and other differentiation strategies?
  7. Note-making is one “writing to learn” strategy: what are some of the ones you use regularly?
  8. What are some of the factors that you consider in designing your grading system and determining individual grades?

It has been a great year of engaging professional development for the Athena High School Math Department.  It is our hope that our work this year will help us to implement the Common Core Standards.


How We Learn

“How We Learn”

10% of what we READ

20% of what we HEAR

30% of what we SEE

50% of what we SEE and HEAR

70% of what is DISCUSSED with OTHERS


95% of what we TEACH TO SOMEONE ELSE

~William Glasser

High Levels of Learning

For these first ten weeks of school, I have had the opportunity to work with Mrs. Esposito, a great math and special education teacher.  The uniqueness of one of her classes this year is that it is multi-grade level (Half 7th graders and half 8th graders in the same class).  In other words, she is responsible for teaching both 7th and 8th grade math curricula in one class.  She has tackled this challenge in a number of ways ensuring that each child is experiencing high levels of learning.  For some topics that overlap both curricula, she instructs them in a large group while offering many opportunities for individual questions.  For topics specific to a grade level, she utilizes a core extension period, Castle Learning, and the alternative teaching model of co-teaching.  Cook and Friend (1995) describe alternative teaching as one teacher teaching a specific topic to one group, while the other teacher teaches or reviews a different topic with a second group.  Although I have had many opportunities to alternative teach with Mrs. Esposito, I credit the teaching assistants, Mrs. Walker and Mrs. Halligan, for taking on this role to help meet the needs of each child in their classroom.  For example, one of the teaching assistants will take the 7th grade students and work on one-step equations, while Mrs. Esposito will work on multi-step equations with the 8th graders.  This is a great example of the high levels of learning that place at Athena Middle School.

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