Teachers Helping Teachers: Ellen Murphy, ACE 22
Segment 1: Creating a Culture of Collaborative Problem-Solvers in Math Classrooms
Ellen Murphy, a graduate of the 22nd Cohort of ACE Teaching Fellows, chose to remain at McGill-Toolen Catholic High School, her ACE placement school in Mobile, Alabama, where she teaches 9th and 10th grade Math.
In this segment of ACE Advocates’s Teachers Helping Teachers series, Ellen shares some of the strategies she has employed to create a culture of student engagement in her math classroom. Ellen’s classroom culture is built around three key strategies: intentional student grouping, a use of concrete, real world examples in which to ground the mathematical content, and the use of iPad technology and math software programs to support student learning.
Intentional Student Grouping
While Ellen’s classroom appears to be arranged in forward-facing rows, the intentionality behind students’ seating arrangement speaks to what is actually an incredibly collaborative dynamic. After a few weeks of learning students’ strengths, Ellen clusters students in a way they can easily huddle up in consistent groups of 3 or 4 to work through the problems she presents throughout a given lesson. Her seating assignments and reliance on group work foster a culture of inter-dependence, where students are learning not only from her, as teacher, but from each other. This culture of inter-dependence between and among students allows Ellen to circulate more frequently and fluidly around the room to assess students’ mastery of the material, and to attend to those students needing further clarification on a one-on-one basis. As an added benefit, the students, by having to explain the concepts to their peers, end up internalizing the material they are covering.
Grounding Mathematical Concepts in Real-World Examples
While math might seem an abstraction, Ellen builds her lessons around concrete, real-world scenarios. For example, in this lesson on graphing functions using x and y intercepts, Ellen begins by referencing an experience with which many of her students might be familiar: the task of draining a pool. Inviting students to imagine having to drain a 10,000-gallon pool, Ellen introduces a real-world problem that becomes the anchor for an entire lesson on dependent and independent variables, as well as finding and graphing x and y intercepts. For Ellen, remembering and honoring multiple representations of mathematics is one key to a math classroom that supports students’ learning. In addition to using stories, Ellen remains attentive to other representations as well, trying—where possible—to represent a single mathematical concept algebraically (as an equation), graphically, and in tables.
Meaningful Use of Technology
McGill-Toolen’s iPad program has allowed Ellen to creatively employ technology as a tool in support of student learning. It’s evident as students enter the classroom that they know the routine: Download the slides, fill in the daily lesson objective using Notability, and prepare for a 45-minute fast-paced class where they’ll be using Notability to solve problems on the slides Ellen has made available, while simultaneously using applications like Desmos to graph functions, screen shots of which can be copied and pasted into their notes. With the slides already downloaded by the time the bell has rung to begin class, students are able to work at an accelerated pace, should they be ready to move on at any point in the lesson.