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Building a “Math Culture” at New Song Academy

Introduction

New Song Academy, a K-8 public school located in West Baltimore, MD, wanted to increase achievement expectations to complement its warm and nurturing school environment. School leadership also wanted to place a strategic focus on mathematics. 

Executive Director Mark Carter believes in setting high expectations for both students and teachers, often saying that they have “superpowers” to achieve great things. For these classroom superheroes, Carter’s goal was threefold: 

  • Bring out the greatest potential in students. 
  • Raise awareness and comfort around math among the professional staff. 
  • Bridge the gap between student’s classroom performance and their standardized test scores, particularly in mathematics. 

Carter wanted the school to do more than “teach math.” This would start with rebooting the math experience for the teachers and learning instructors.  Once the staff was more excited about math, Carter knew they would naturally translate this excitement to students in their classrooms. 

Simplify’s Involvement

Rebooting the math experience started with a professional development half-day, a day that was anything but boring. Simplify Founder Dr. Phyllis Hillwig was invited, along with her team member Charles Hartley, to lead a fun, creative event designed to further the school’s goals. 

The event included team building, math games, and the application of math to real-world problems. Staff got to tackle real issues, not just learning real-world applications that math students would enjoy and that would be relevant to their daily lives, but also with respect to reducing math anxiety and setting expectations for students, teachers, and parents. 

Outcomes

The math event was a huge success. In addition to sharpening their math skills, teachers and learning instructors had the opportunity to reduce their anxiety around math and learn that math can actually be fun.  

As a result of the experience, the New Song team developed action steps for creating a stronger math culture for the school. Teachers actively engaged in the process, coming up with ideas for integrating math into their disciplines (reading and language arts, science, social studies, and specials), including the incorporation of math terms, questions, and pictures into those disciplines to encourage math thinking and questioning. 

“Simplify’s math training gave our staff time to reflect and think about their own math anxieties, experiences, and how to improve those for our students. I appreciated their fun and playful way of helping everyone see a different side and importance of math. I look forward to working with Phyllis and her team to continue to strengthen the math culture of our community.”

— Mark Carter, Executive Director, New Song Academy 

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