MfA SD Summer Academies Strengthen Learning for Students – and their Teachers

crop2pairshareImprove your math knowledge during the summer? That may seem a little too… academic for the average high school student’s summer break plans.

But thanks to a generous gift from the Mara W. Breech Family Foundation, Math for America San Diego (MfA SD) held two decidedly “unacademic” Summer Academies for 80 incoming ninth and tenth graders at Oceanside High School (OHS) in June. For a second year, OHS students participated in a mathematically rich and different learning experience while teachers refined and improved their instructional practices through innovative professional development.

“This has been another very successful partnership with Math for America San Diego,” said Teresa Collis, principal for Oceanside High School. “MfA SD Summer Academies at OHS continue to be an excellent way to bolster our students’ math knowledge in preparation for a new school year, while providing a deep and effective professional development experience for our teachers.”

The MfA SD Summer Academies are available to schools and districts throughout San Diego County to bolster mathematics skills for secondary students during the summer. MfA SD Teaching Fellows partner with math department members from a school or MfA SD school district partner to co-design their own Summer Academy with a curricular approach that meets the particular needs of a given student population. Teachers and MfA SD Teaching Fellows then co-teach the summer academies and regroup to reflect on the instructional approaches, challenges and successes of each day and collaborate to modify the curriculum as necessary.

teacher2Tiffany Arnaldo, mathematics teacher at OHS, with incoming OHS tenth graders at the MfA SD Summer Academy.

According to Osvaldo “Ovie” Soto, MfA SD executive director, the MfA SD Summer Academies are not only for students as learners — but for teachers as learners as well.

“The professional development component of the MfA SD Summer Academies allows teachers to improve their practice and recapture the joy of teaching in a supportive environment,” Soto said. “Sharing of teaching practices among educators within the peer-to-peer, real-time context of co-planning, co-teaching and reflecting on what worked and what didn’t work during a class is what stokes this professional development model. Having the freedom to try different approaches sparks intellectual curiosity, trust, courage and calmness in teachers, which in turn can ignite these same qualities in students as they learn math,” he added.

The MfA SD Summer Academy instructional team for incoming ninth graders included MfA SD Teaching Fellows Aurmon Harchegani, mathematics teacher at High Tech High School Chula Vista and Yekaterina Milvidskaia, mathematics teacher at Vista Magnet Middle School. Fellows partnered with OHS math teachers Dustin Long and Michael Mulvey. Long and Mulvey worked with Harchegani and Milvidskaia at the 2017 Summer Academy. After trying the new pedalogical approaches throughout the 2017-18 school year, they were eager to learn more at this year’s Summer Academy.

cropkaterinaMfA SD Teaching Fellows Milvidskaia and Harchegani (seated right) with incoming Oceanside High School ninth graders.

The incoming ninth grade academy curriculum and classroom environment centered on “growth mindset,” a term coined by Stanford University Professor Carol Dweck in her work on the development of a growth mindset for learning, which was adapted for mathematics learning by fellow Stanford Professor Jo Boaler.

“The goal of the institute is to help students develop their identity as mathematical learners. This means that students’ thinking, ideas, methods, and questions are at the center of our instruction,” Milvidskaia said. “When students see their ideas are valued by their peers and teachers they start to develop a mathematical identity. It has been shown that the development of this identity is the most significant predictor of future success in mathematics.”

The Summer Academy instructional team for incoming tenth graders included MfA SD Master Teaching Fellows Genevieve Esmende, mathematics teacher at Wangenheim Middle School, and Trang Vu, mathematics teacher at La Jolla High School. Vu is also the co-PI on the California Math Readiness Challenge Initiative grant at San Diego State University. Esmende and Vu partnered with OHS math teachers Tiffany Arnaldo and math department chair Amy Martin.

crop4boys2The academy curriculum for incoming tenth graders was co-designed to strengthen students’ quantitative and proportional reasoning knowledge, concepts important for a solid understanding of linear functions.

“We focused on helping students learn to reason with meaning using context-based problems that were algebraic in nature,” Trang said. “We encouraged students to explain how they reached their solutions and moved them through what didn’t make sense by asking questions to help reinforce their understanding.”

MfA SD Summer Academy teaching fellows are alumni of the five-year MfA SD Fellowship program. The fellowship features professional development institutes led by Dr. Guershon Harel, mathematics professor at UC San Diego. The MfA SD Summer Academy instructional practices are based on Harel’s internationally renowned research on teaching and learning mathematics.

“At MfA SD Summer Academies, teachers start with their intended lesson, and as students demonstrate their mathematical understanding, the teaching team must modify their approach and make changes along the way,” Soto said. “You present a problem to students; now your lesson flies off the rail. Having collaborators with you in that moment allows you to refine your model of student thinking and modify the intended lesson on the fly to advance students in a much more targeted way instead of staying with the intended lesson. It’s a deeply effective way for teachers to learn how to meet students’ mathematical needs and strengthen math understanding.”

About Math for America San Diego 

Math for America San Diego is committed to improving the teaching and learning of mathematics in high-need secondary schools in San Diego by providing professional development, mentoring and other forms of professional support to teachers and their districts. MfA SD is a consortium of three partner universities – California State University San Marcos, San Diego State University and UC San Diego– and five local school districts – Escondido Union High School District, Grossmont Union High School District, Oceanside Unified High School District, San Diego Unified School District and Vista Unified School District. Launched in 2008, the non-profit program is housed in the Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment and Teaching Excellence (CREATE) at UC San Diego.

For more information about MfA SD, contact Ovie Soto, MfA SD executive director.