Neag School Faculty, Local Educators Celebrate Bridging Practices Among Connecticut Math Educators Project

Editor’s Note: Neag School faculty and local educators recently celebrated a two-year project with local school districts to provide professional development on math instruction in response to new Common Core standards. The following story covering the celebration first appeared on the Manchester (Conn.) Public Schools website in September 2015.

Arguments in school are not always appropriate and thus not always encouraged.

But some math teachers in Manchester, Conn., are insisting that their students thoughtfully and deliberately construct arguments as they analyze and defend their classwork.

“The ability to justify conclusions with evidence and critique the reasoning of others is critical for proficiency in mathematics,” said Dr. Santosha Oliver, Manchester’s director of teaching and learning for science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics.

Oliver was among a group of educators from Manchester and two other school districts who joined representatives from the University of Connecticut on Monday for an event celebrating a yearlong project focused on using argumentation in math instruction.

The program, officially called “Bridging Practices Among Connecticut Math Educators,” was a Math-Science Partnership grant funded by the state Department of Education and also involved schools in Mansfield and Hartford.

“I think it’s very appropriate that we celebrate,” said Oliver, who said she “truly believes” that teachers and numeracy coaches involved in the project are now among the best in the state as far as developing students’ capacity to engage in active mathematical discourse through the lens of argumentation.

Mathematical Practice 3 (MP3) is part of the Common Core and refers to “constructing viable arguments and critiquing the reasoning of others” in mathematics.

“Argumentation is really about vetting ideas,” said Megan Staples, an associate professor of mathematics education at UConn’s Neag School of Education, who gave an initial overview to the crowd gathered at MCC on Main.

She said argumentation also involves coming to consensus, evaluating arguments and deciding about the truth of mathematical claims.

(Incidentally, Staples is married to Parag Joshi, who is a Social Studies teacher at MHS and was the creator last year of a popular Truth Seminar course.)

After Staples’ overview, there were a series of workshops and presentations, during which time teachers shared stories and student work from the 2014-15 school year.

Last year, 13 master’s students from UConn’s Neag School of Education had internships in the partnering schools, where they worked with math teachers. UConn also had doctoral candidate students involved in the program.

Laura Kowaleski, a fifth-grade teacher at Highland Park, said she and others in her professional learning community met about once a week with Steve LeMay, who is pursuing his PhD in the mathematics department.

“We looked at student work, and developed a lot of tools and tasks,” said Kowaleski.

LeMay noted that these “mutual discussions” gave him insights that have informed his graduate work. He said that historically, there has been a great deal of attention paid to pedagogy – that is, the practice of teaching – but not as much to actual content itself. He added that he is intrigued by the gap that exists between what students know and can do after they graduate high school, compared to the challenges that await in higher education – and he believes that collaborative ventures such as this one can help bridge that gap.

As for the presentations?

Kowaleski and Highland Park colleague Grace DeAngelis gave one called “Showcasing 5th-Grade Tasks and Student Work.”

Other presenters from Manchester were:

  • Diane Ozmun of Martin: “Utilizing the Talk Frame to Promote Student Discourse.”
  • Kylie Hoke, Buckley: “Posing a Question to Promote Argumentation.”
  • Sarah Brown, Buckley: “Argumentation in the Fractions Unit.”
  • Cathy Mazzotta, Jenn Downes and Jeana Favat, MHS: “High School Argumentation Process.”
  • Colleen Litwin (Bowers), Lisa Miner (Buckley) and Kristin Smith (District Numeracy Specialist): “Argumentation Resource Packets.”
  • Wendy Vincens (Martin) and Kathleen Hackett (Verplanck): “Second Grade Argues.”
  • An’drea Flynn and Christine Giaquinto (Washington), “Introducing Argumentation to Staff”

Oliver said she is hoping that Manchester will be able to extend its affiliation with the UConn project, but noted that in the meantime there are over 200 resources available for teachers to use at  The UConn project artifacts are also available in the K-5 Math Launch Unit Resources.