As an educator I am always trying to ensure that my students are learning and succeeding to the best of their capabilities. This article describes the impact that a resource called JUMP Math had on our school, Muheim Memorial Elementary School in central BC.
To provide some context, provincial assessments (which were confirmed by internal data) showed that the school was one of the worst performers in the entire province. Morale was low and behaviour left much to be desired. Of course there were excuses, and probably quite valid ones, such as poverty and learning challenges. In fact, over half of the population was considered to be at extreme risk for not finishing high school.
Then the story changed; since 2009 Muheim Elementary School has become a top ten percent performer in both literacy and numeracy. It would fill volumes to describe all the pieces behind this turnaround and they would include many anecdotes of staff going ridiculously far above expectations, students who wouldn’t give up, and support from local business. My purpose here is to describe the part of Muheim’s experience that is scalable, because while the people can’t be replicated, the programs can be.
Four resources provided the backbone of Muheim’s success, two in literacy and two in numeracy. The literacy program was based on SMART reading and buoyed by Words Their Way, a spelling and word work program. The two numeracy resources were ANIE (an assessment for, of, and as learning) and JUMP (Junior Undiscovered Math Prodigies) Math.
Muheim took a first tentative step with JUMP Math in 2005 when a few staff members read and circulated The Myth of Ability by John Mighton. The background of JUMP Math sounded promising as John Mighton (a playwright, turned PhD mathematician) had developed the basic approach of the resource while tutoring students as a part-time volunteer. He quickly noticed that many of the existing texts seemed to have significant gaps in their approaches and even, in some instances, mathematically incorrect teachings that could possibly lead to students having difficulties with more advanced math down the road. He noticed that through careful teaching (and re-teaching as necessary) in small increments he could help students who had previously been unable to complete even the simplest of math problems build their confidence in their ability to do math.
Over years of testing the program in classrooms, Mighton and the JUMP Math staff developed an approach called “guided discovery.” Students are encouraged to explore and discover concepts in manageable steps with guidance from their teachers.
This sounded promising to a school like Muheim because a majority of our students struggled with basic skills in all areas. We were also attracted to the charity aspect of the JUMP Math program, where some materials are offered free of cost and include a suite of helpful tips, lessons and materials. A Grade 4 teacher ran the first pilot of the program and it became obvious within the first few classes that the carefully scaffolded lessons (infused with the teacher’s own personality) were going to produce significant results. Students quickly became observably more confident, often declaring that math was their new favourite subject. Over the next few years JUMP Math became the standard resource used throughout the school.
JUMP Math was and continues to be a success at Muheim Elementary School. Internal assessment with the ANIE tool showed just how far students were progressing and standardized provincial assessments mirrored this data. That it worked isn’t in question; how it worked was the subject of our own investigative inquiry conducted over several years. What was immediately apparent was that the JUMP Math materials improved teaching by equipping the teachers with a huge toolbox of powerful approaches and strategies. For instance, a fractions unit (often taught first with intermediate students) uses skip counting as the foundational piece and advances through a series of steps until students are suddenly completing fraction-related questions with a newfound understanding of the numbers. Math savvy teachers were able to add arrows to their quiver of already great ideas for teaching a math concept. In addition, other teachers, who may not have embraced math in the past, gained confidence in their own knowledge and teaching ability, and enthusiastically shared these new approaches with their students.
Once Muheim had been using JUMP Math consistently it also became clear that students were able to perform at a greatly improved level when completing word problems. Dramatic improvements in their mental math capabilities meant that their working memories were no longer overburdened and they now had far more resources to devote to the actual comprehension and solving of the math problems. These new abilities led to further confidence that is probably the overwhelming secret of JUMP Math. Its careful scaffolding builds success, which increases confidence, which builds even more success both for students and teachers.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kevin Bird was the principal at Muheim Memorial Elementary School in Smithers, British Columbia from 2008 to 2013. He is now the Principal of Twain Sullivan Elementary School in Houston, BC. Bird is co-creator of the ANIE numeracy assessment framework and works with schools around the province to improve numeracy outcomes. jumpmath.org
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Nov/Dec 2013 issue.