My principal loves visiting my class because she sees the kids are “excited” about learning math.
Lisa Misselwitz | Middle School Mathematics Teacher | Kenneth R. Olson Middle School
Lisa Misselwitz is a middle school math teacher at Kenneth R. Olson Middle School in Tabernacle, NJ. The district is one the first adopters of the Progressive Mathematics Initiative® (PMI®) and has been using the program since 2009.
What does a typical day look like in your classroom?
On a typical day, my class begins with about 10-20 minutes of instruction where I explain the lesson, model a couple of examples, and then have students guide me through a couple examples asking them to explain key concepts along the way. After that, I designate a student to become the “teacher” for the portion of the lesson when students are using student polling devices (Responders). This student is responsible for starting/stopping the questions, asking the class probing questions, and writing the work on the board when needed. This time allows me to move around the room and work with the groups that are really struggling. I have to help out with the questioning most of the time, but some student “teachers” really get into their role and take over completely. Once we are finished with all of the Responder questions necessary, we move on to the Class work/Homework packet. This is another time when the students are allowed to work with each other, as well as ask me questions the groups cannot figure out. It also is a time where the students who are working at a faster pace are allowed to move on to the more challenging questions.
What is the most positive outcome you have seen with your implementation of PMI?
The most positive outcome I have seen with the implementation of PMI is seeing my students go from being in a class to being part of a team. Since most of my class time is spent with the students working with each other in groups, we begin to rely and trust each other with the class’ learning as a whole. It is so gratifying to hear students explaining the problems to each other. It shows me that not only are the students who need help getting it, but the students who are helping them are taking their learning to the next level. My principal loves visiting my class because she sees the kids are “excited” about learning math.
What was the biggest adjustment you made in your teaching when you switched to using PMI?
The biggest adjustment I made when I switched to using PMI was going from a quiet classroom to a noisy one. I had always thought that good classroom management looked like a room where the students were sitting in their seats listening and working independently. When I started using PMI, I had to learn that noise doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In fact, it’s a sign that the students are engaged in their learning in my classroom now. Now when I have a quiet classroom I start to worry.
What’s the difference between PMI and other curricula?
There are several differences I have noticed between PMI and other curricula. One is that the students are truly engaged in their own learning. I work with all different types of ability levels and ALL of my students are able to be successful in my classroom. Another main difference, and an invaluable one in my opinion, is that the curriculum is “live”. This means that it is constantly being updated to meet the ever changing standards and rigor of the state. This means that when the standards move or the testing questioning alters, you don’t have to go out and find a new textbook or create new practice pages because PMI will do it for you. The staff at NJCTL listen to your questions, comments, and concerns because we are the ones in the classrooms.
What advice do you have for teachers adopting PMI?
I think the best advice I can give to a teacher adopting PMI is to really invest some time in teaching your students how to be part of a group. It is easy to think that working with someone is a natural experience, but I have found that this is not the case. I spend the first 1 week of school really building the foundation for what I expect from them in groups. I know this seems unnecessary, and most of the time it seems silly to the kids as well, but it has made a world of difference in my classroom. I start the year off with one or two small STEM-like activities where the kids work in groups. Usually it is some kind of problem-solving building competition. After the activity is over, we discuss the different resources the groups used, the different ways the groups worked together, and the results. I have them focus in on three main questions: what they learned about working with others, how can being part of a group can help to solve a problem, and how would they be able to help create a non-threatening environment when working in a group. We spend a lot of time talking about what helped some groups work well together and what made some groups struggle. It is a great time to emphasize that everyone in the class is going to have different strengths at different points in the year and that all of our opinions matter. We also discuss the appropriate use of the Responders. Since we use the polling devices daily in our class, it is essential that my students understand what I expect from them. I discuss how they need to be able to help each other in their group, but not give the answers to their team mates. I model some guiding techniques for them to try out. After we answer the questions using the devices, we stop to discuss the graphs each time. We talk about what expectations I have for the graphs and how I shouldn’t see small sectors signaling me that there are individual students who are not asking for help or engaging in conversations with their groups. This leads nicely into my next activity where the students describe what it looks like, sounds like, and feels like in a group. There are lots of different ways you can go about doing this. I use sentence strips. I have the groups come up with 2 ideas each for the different descriptors. When we are finished reviewing them, they are allowed to hang them wherever they want in my room. I have found that they actually really like having a say in decorating the classroom. Because of this, I also have created a bulletin board about teamwork where each student colors a different piece of a puzzle that fits together to form a fun class artwork when it’s complete. All of these things take a decent chunk of time in an already time crunched school year. But I truly believe investing setting up a team work environment allows you to utilize PMI to the best of it ability.