MNIs at COABE 2014

ATLAS was very pleased again this year to provide financial support to several MNI alumni who presented at the COABE (Commission on Adult Basic Education) Conference in Pittsburgh in March. We will be featuring brief articles by these MNIs in this and upcoming newsletters, as a way of sharing their learnings from the 2014 conference.

From Rebecca Strom, MNI Project Lead / Mankato ABE

This year’s conference started with an excellent full-day pre-conference numeracy session. Throughout the sessions, there was a clear focus on not only the numeracy content, but also how to teach it using the standards. This is something that is quite new to many of us, and I look forward to learning more about it.

As someone who loves to look at things conceptually, I was totally intrigued by two foundational ideas; 1) using the number line more and 2) teaching multiplication using Geometry-Area. Using the number line more in the beginning helps develop a richer “number sense” with positive and negative numbers and better prepares students for graphing down the road. Teaching multiplication using the idea of area (for example, 2×3 is two rows of three) leads to visually seeing the commutative property, the distributive property, and more. It then could lead to a better understanding of factoring, square roots, algebra tiles, and other concepts down the road. I have definitely had my interest piqued with these foundational ideas and am excited to pursue this more.

Once again, I left COABE feeling so proud to be part of MNI. Although I can’t remember if it was pronounced after a session, or just walking from one session to the next, but I heard someone excitedly exclaim, “You guys from MN have the BEST stuff!”

I have been a part of our MN Numeracy Initiative since its first year in 2010. Since then, I’ve had amazing opportunities for professional development through online courses, excellent numeracy sessions at regional conferences and Summer Institute, the MNI-sponsored Math Institute, attendance at the COABE conference, amazing support and insight from colleagues, and more. This year at COABE, in addition to attending many excellent numeracy sessions, I also had the privilege of meeting and visiting with many of the experts in the field of numeracy – Donna Curry, Lynda Ginsburg, Pam Meader, Sally Waldron, Dorothea Steinke, Brooke Istas, Cynthia Bell, and others. As MNI plans its upcoming MN Math Institute for September 19, 2014, I look forward to continuing to work with Cynthia Bell and learning more strategies for applying the standards in our instruction.

From Danielle Legault, Minneapolis Adult Education

The COABE conference in Pittsburgh was the second time I had the opportunity to go to a national conference. I attended sessions on a variety of topics from how to differentiate lessons in an ELL classroom to MNI sessions to how to teach GED lessons by creating thematic lessons that incorporate many skills.

What can I synthesize from these seemingly different topics? I realized more concretely that the more we can help students make the connections between topics and with real life, the better all of our students from low ELL through GED can learn. Here are a few math examples:

  • Start teaching the number line and very simple equations with low-level ELLs. They can do it.
  • Have students at all levels collect their own data and make their own graphs.
  • Teach each algebra problem in various ways: story problem (verbally), equation, in/out table, and graph (thanks, Lindsey Cermak and Amy Vickers).
  • Connect the teaching of math to other disciplines. For an example in science, use exponents to show what happens in the human body when a virus multiplies. It doesn’t take that much time to find interesting information online and the students appreciate it.

A second idea that I found helpful was to give students time to reflect at the end of class. Ask them to think: “What did I learn? What do I need more practice with? What further questions do I have?” This reminded me of the ACES category of self-management to empower our students to be responsible for their own learning. It is also related to having students do an “exit ticket” at the end of class to test what they learned that day.

The third main idea I liked was about differentiation. This is when teachers intentionally assign students different work per their skill levels. In math, that is easy. A teacher can give all of the students the same problem, but can easily change the numbers to make the problem easier or more challenging for the student.

From Kristin Klas, Hmong American Partnership

I enjoyed the opportunity to present at COABE this spring. I was amazed by the presence of so many other Minnesota teacher-presenters at a national conference. I really felt we were at the cutting edge both in numeracy and ELL instruction for low educated learners. I was fortunate to attend several excellent sessions as well. One that really stuck with me was a session on sensory processing.

The presenter was actually an occupational therapist interested in building relationships with ABE programs. There was a participant in the session whose site currently has a relationship with an OT and finds it invaluable. The presenter encouraged us to rethink “annoying” behaviors in the classroom and investigate as to whether they might be a learner’s attempt at refocusing their attention. She suggested adding to our classrooms mint or cinnamon candy to “wake up” inattentive learners and stress balls or coffee straws (to chew on) for distracted learners.

The session about advocating for learners who are refugees was about a school trying to help workers at a meat packing plant in a small town in Missouri. NPR did a story on their program which can be found here. The session was mostly an opportunity to share resources and quickly became a discussion on how to best serve low educated English language learners. A few teachers passed around the photo stories from Grass Roots Press. The vocabulary and sentence structure is very basic and the illustrations are all photographs. They would be great for class readings or to add to a classroom reading library!