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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.


Niagara University Professor Engages Teachers at Athena

Niagara University Education Professor Dr. Paul Vermette presented to the Athena High School math department on Monday, Dec. 12 on the “ENGAGING Framework in Secondary Mathematics.”  He began his workshop acknowledging that we are in “an age of standards, technology, 21st century skills, social distancing, recession, Common Core Curriculum, teacher accountability, standardized tests, brain research, adolescent boredom, research availability and lack of social-emotional skill, increased innumeracy, change in parental supervision, and attacks on public schools…whew…”  Dr. Vermette presented with NU graduate student Kristin Manguso.

In a workshop filled with collaboration, reflection, activity, and discussion, Vermette embedded the many aspects of his “ENGAGING Framework.”  This framework highlights eight factors that teachers should keep in mind as they plan and carry out there daily work.  These factors are:

  • ENTICE EFFORT and BUILD COMMUNITY: Every opportunity to motivate, encourage and support students is taken.
  • NEGOTIATE MEANING: Students must develop their own understanding of important ideas; they are never expected to memorize without meaning nor are they to claim understanding without their own examination.
  • GROUP COLLABORATIVELY: Students work in and out of partnerships; consequently, they must be respectful of everyone else and accept the responsibility of honoring a community of diverse individuals.
  • ACTIVE LEARNING and AUTHENTIC ASSESSMENT: Learning is seen as the result of thinking and is demonstrated by a performance of understanding. Learning is doing and is always visible and audible; “tests” mean providing evidence of understanding by skilled use of ideas in a new and realistic situation.
  • GRAPHIC ORGANIZERS: A simplistic but powerful tool, these are used regularly to examine information, record thinking, and to document relationships. Students think visually on a regular basis and keep these as other people keep computer files.
  • INTELLIGENCE INTERVENTIONS: Diversity is the norm, so differentiated intervention (many based on Multiple Intelligence Theory) has also become the norm. Teachers and students utilize a myriad set of strategies, ideas, and practices to find ones that work for specific individuals.
  • NOTE MAKING: Unlike most secondary classrooms in which every student is expected to develop a set of “notes” that are identical to the teacher’s, note making expects each student to record his or her own ideas as they happen and as questions are being answered. Like a “captain’s log,” those notes explicate the musings, the analogies, the partial answers, and the insights gathered as students navigate the realities of their investigations.
  • GRADE WISELY: The least-well-examined phenomena in education, grading practices stand as the real belief system of a teacher. In every case, the teacher should give the benefit of the doubt to the thinker-learner and uses the grades as motivators for continued work. The approach to grading a project, an assignment, a homework or an interaction becomes the vehicle by which a teacher defines his or her philosophy and sends messages to teens about their own expectations for success in that class.

The Athena math department purchased a copy of Dr. Vermette’s (2009) “ENGAGING Teens in Their Own Learning” book and will begin a book study next month.  In addition, Dr. Vermette will be doing follow up workshops to dig deeper into what makes math instruction engaging for all students.  See photos of the workshop including Vermette’s famous GRONK activity.


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