Making math a hands-on experience

Discovery Place

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) Secondary Math Specialist Hema Lalwani is dedicated to bringing more innovation into the high school math classroom.

In 2014, Hema received a Math and Science Partnership grant and reached out to Discovery Place Education Studio (DPES) to provide a professional development session for CMS’s high school math teachers. The workshop focused on developing a conceptual understanding of math. But the thing that really impressed the CMS team was the resources and manipulatives that were used during the session. And that got Hema thinking.

What if all of CMS’s high school math teachers and their students could have access to these teaching tools?

She approached the DPES team with this question and a new partnership was born. The Education Studio staff proposed creating a set of custom resource kits that could be used by high school students across the district. The kits would allow students to more easily visualize and understand concepts and would aid them in moving through the curriculum at their own pace.

“In high school math, we don’t have a lot of hands-on opportunities, “said Hema. “Science has tons of stuff to model, create and explore. Students and teachers sometimes need the tangible in order to visualize the problem and understand what they are solving for.”

Hema chose to focus on a challenging high school geometry concept – coordinate proof of geometric shapes and geometric transformations -- a standard that goes through the whole high school math curriculum. The DPES team experimented with various approaches to the problem. Using 3D printers and laser cutters, they created and tested prototypes and finally settled on an approach to the problem. 

And that’s when the real partnership work began.

While the Ed Studio staff thought they had a good approach, they needed input from the educators who work with kids in the classroom. In June 2017, 45 CMS high school math teachers came to Discovery Place Education Studio for a professional development and prototyping session. They walked through the lessons and used the prototypes as students would. Throughout the experience, the teachers provided feedback on the resource kits:  What worked? Where did they see conceptual challenges? What might need to be manufactured differently?

With this feedback in hand, the Ed Studio team made revisions to the manipulatives, providing a resource kit that was truly customized to the needs of the teachers. Final kits to service the whole district were then produced and will be delivered for use in schools during the 2017-18 school year.

“When teachers have access to curriculum resources and technology to connect their students, they can help students to synthesize information and solve problems,” remarked Hema. 

“When each teacher can touch 200 or more students each year, we want to make sure that they are prepared with the tools and innovative pedagogical practices they need. This partnership has been a win-win for us.”

To learn more about custom resource kit development, contact Douglas Thompson

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  • Discovery Place Education Studio