A 2018 Planning Grant for the Math Department
“The Innovation Fund provided the platform for the most inspiring experience of my teaching career,” says Julia Naimy, BHS 9th grade geometry teacher.
Thanks to an Innovation Fund planning grant, Ms. Naimy and two other teachers (Betty Strong and Adam Fried) had the opportunity to pilot a project-based learning unit that combined students in college prep (also known as standard), honors and advanced geometry classes. A key piece of the pilot was to design curriculum and assessments that valued all students’ strengths.
Spearheading the project was Bruce Mallory, a BHS math teacher for more than 20 years, the girls’ tennis coach and a mentor to Ms. Naimy through the Teachers Mentoring Teachers program, which was initially funded by the Innovation Fund.
Mr. Mallory has long questioned the value of homogenous (similar level) versus heterogeneous (many level) classes. A parent himself, he understands that parents want their kids to be both challenged and successful. And after decades in the math classroom he is well aware that tracking can be a hotbed issue. “We’ve all been teaching homogenous classes forever. The idea of this grant was to give us an opportunity struggle with and observe what it would look like to teach a chunk of content in a heterogeneous class.”
He credits the trio for setting up the classroom environment in a way that enabled the kids to get the best learning experience possible. Together with Josh Paris, the math department chair, the team carved out a three-week space to test what a mixed level class would be like. In the pilot, the teachers focused on the process of learning and on presentation skills. “That was exciting for the teachers,” Mr. Mallory says. “At the end of the day, memorizing the quadratic formula doesn’t make a difference in anyone’s life. What’s important is understanding how and when to use it.”
Working with the team was also a big plus for Ms. Naimy. “I collaborated with others that I hadn’t worked with before,” she says. “It was just great. I’m not sure I would have done it by myself. I also like that the Fund asked for a report, which formalized the experience.”
“This grant has moved us forward to continue these conversations,” Mr. Mallory says. “We know we can go back and knock on the Innovation Fund door again.”
— Jennifer B. Wells
“In the math department we have been having many conversations about the inequities that leveling creates. Many of us have long believed that we could create learning opportunities to meet the needs of all students in a classroom, regardless of their previous mathematical experiences. This Innovation Fund grant gave us the opportunity to put this belief into practice. This was a tremendously successful endeavor. By placing the focus of the class on collaboration and communication skills, the teachers were able to move all students forward in their mathematical thinking.”