Eventually it all Adds Up

Math Department Experiments with New Teaching Strategy in 2020


Ms. Cooey in the Math Arena

Math has always been a source of frustration for certain students. Of all the subjects, it tends to have a reputation as to being the most difficult; there’s no other topic that lights up a conversation faster than, “The algebra test last week — how were we even supposed to know that last question?”

“When students explore patterns, see how other students approach problems, and get a chance to make mistakes that they learn from, they gain a deeper understanding of the topic.” explained Ms. Kathleen Cooey, high school math teacher.

The district hasn’t ignored that sentiment — they’ve made changes – and students have felt the shift. This shift has been an effort to change the way we approach math entirely. With a combination of new textbooks — you might know them as your CPM ebooks — and new teaching methods, the goal is to turn lectures into discussions. The teacher proposes a question, the students bounce ideas off each other, and the teacher clarifies afterwards.

On paper, this seems like a dream class, but the change has, as all change does, inevitably brought with it frustrations.

“They think you’ll understand it better if you struggle through it first — it works for some people, but it just isn’t my cup of tea,” said Reanna Cenni, junior.

Going through classes with the CPM style of teaching, myself, I have a guess or two as to why such a good number of people feel this way. Growing up, math was taught in a certain way; you were taught how to do something and you answered questions as to how to do it. Getting those questions right meant you paid attention and did what you were supposed to: getting them wrong meant you didn’t. So when we walk into a class and are asked questions we’re not supposed to know how to answer, it can come across as feeling unfair, or even that we’re being taught incorrectly, being that we’ve only known one method of teaching.

Junior Anna Weiss echoed that sentiment: “I understand why it’s considered valuable, and if done correctly, it really isn’t too bad. But — for most people — it’s not working very well, I think. Mainly because, when approaching a new subject, people need more guidance from someone with experience than teamwork with people who have no idea what they’re doing.”

Just like any change, it’s the transition that’s difficult. But this method is promising ! A report on a study of 19 urban sixth-grade classes showed students in all classrooms made, “…significant content and inquiry gains.” Other research showing the promise of this method can be found at the following link.

If this new method can “work” here at the secondary level, what would happen if it was started earlier ? Junior Maddie Barker offered this idea:  “In a long-term environment, CPM will hopefully create a problem-solving mindset and more math – oriented students. However, in my opinion, CPM introduced at the high school level only creates confusion and lowers math comprehension. I believe West Geauga should stick with the CPM method, but it should be implemented at the elementary level. Then, over time, integrated into the high school curriculum.”

Math is a difficult subject ! It’s as simple as that. Everyone learns in different ways, so finding one method that works for everyone can be a difficult task. Mrs. Cooey urges students struggling with math, CPM-method or not, to work with their teachers. “We are all here to help students be successful!  But part of that success involves communication,” she explained.