Educators come together to improve math teaching

Math Teacher Leader Network meets for two cross-school collaboration sessions

By David Moore | June 1, 2022

Mtln Randy Opt
Randy Merker, education specialist with the Laboratory's Math and Science Academy, works with the MTLN educators during the cross-school collaboration at Blanco Elementary in Bloomfield.

This March and April all the teachers and principals currently in the Laboratory-organized Math Teacher Leader Network (MTLN) program gathered together in schools for the first time this academic year, to take their professional development to the next level.

The 32 teachers and four principals spent two days at Blanco Elementary in Bloomfield in March, before reconvening at Mountain Elementary in Los Alamos for two days in April.

"Members of the MTLN have spent six months implementing, evaluating, and refining a system for improving their students' number sense through planning and collaborating among the teachers at their own schools," says Randy Merker, education specialist with the Laboratory's Math and Science Academy (MSA) which coordinates the MTLN. "The cross-school collaboration allowed the whole group to come together to plan and observe lessons, and provide feedback which could be incorporated into updated lesson plans."

The Math Teacher Leader Network is an association of the Laboratory's MSA, math teacher leaders and their principals that is designed to facilitate and strengthen high quality mathematics teaching and learning in elementary and middle schools in northern New Mexico.

"Engaging in collaborative work to improve teaching and learning creates an excitement which fosters creativity and enhances innovation. This coupled with a professional commitment to colleagues can really generate outstanding results,” said Zach Leonard, also an education specialist with the MSA. "It creates urgency and a focus on efforts to improve even more."

Using Number Talks

The teachers and principals taking part were from Bloomfield Public Schools, Los Alamos Public Schools, Pojoaque Valley School District, and Santa Fe Public Schools, and one of the key approaches they are using to improve math instruction and students' number sense is known as Number Talks, where students as a group are given a problem to solve (without using paper), and then invited to explain their answers and the methods they used. Number Talks emphasize mental math strategies.

At Blanco Elementary for example, Principal Lynda Spencer drove the effort, building the MTLN program into the school's goals. 

"The best outcome from the cross-school collaboration session was that the Blanco teachers were able to receive feedback regarding number talks from colleagues in other Northern New Mexico schools," says Spencer. "This feedback not only helped the teachers improve their practice, but more importantly, it gave them confidence that the work they had done around number talks was helping our students be better mathematicians."

Moving into the school setting

This is the fourth year working with the same group of teachers in the MTLN, and the program has conducted a range of formal professional development sessions outside of schools. Moving the professional learning into the schools and incorporating new teachers aims to help the teachers and schools take ownership of the systems they are putting in place, especially with the participation of receptive and involved administrators.

"This is some of the most effective professional development teachers can get," said Zach. "The immediacy of the feedback, and the chance to apply it right away is very powerful. The collaborative planning-observation-feedback-revision approach also works with other subjects beyond mathematics."

Speaking to the Los Alamos Daily Post, Brian Grass, principal at Mountain Elementary concurred: “It is worth every effort by me, to help facilitate. I attended the meetings and participated in the instructional rounds personally, as a learner. It was worth our time, and then some, to engage in this work. It is my goal to  do this in all curricular areas, in the future.”