‘Place-Based Mathematics in YKSD Leads to Deeper Understanding’ by Morris White

The Yukon-Koyukuk School District (YKSD) has sponsored a series of math activities during the 2020-2021 academic year which have been organized around creating place-based math activities for students in the district, as well as advancing teacher’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK) 3 development as teachers of mathematics in multi-grade classrooms. The majority of teachers in YKSD are multi-subject educators who teach a variety of subjects, including math as part of their daily work in the classrooms.

The District’s math Specialist, Morris White, has coordinated the support for mathematics in YKSD during the 2020-2021 school year. Under Mr. White’s direction, and with the leadership of the District’s head of Teaching and Learning, Mr. Chane Beam, a series of place-based mathematics activities have been held at the majority of the district’s nine campuses.

Over the past two years, YKSD has partnered with the Alaska Staff Development Network to introduce, develop and implement Computer Science Education to all students across the district through an Alaska Native Education Program grant called the Math and Computer Science Advancement (MaCSA) Project.

These district wide math activities began centered on the basketball court, a place in many villages where students engage in recreation and other activities. The purpose of the activity/lesson was to focus on the math of the basketball court – distances between half court line and the baseline, the distance between the baseline and the free throw line, and determining whether the half court is a rectangle or a square. In order to ensure that students were successful during the activities, teachers and the Math Specialists collaborated prior to the math activity to develop grade appropriate tasks and activities. As a follow up, students went to the Flipgrid app to share their ideas and to answer specific questions about the activity via video message. Flipgrid allows others in their class to respond to their answers, creating a dialogue about mathematics between students and teachers, too.

As the year continues, other place-based math and STEM-focused activities will occur at YKSD schools.

An important part of the YKSD project is the development of teacher capacity to provide dynamic mathematical experiences for their students. These experiences cannot occur if the teacher does not have a deep understanding of the math they are teaching their students. With the assistance of mathematics consultant Bobbi Jo Erb and YKSD Math Specialist Morris White, YKSD is providing regularly scheduled Professional Development for teachers to improve their Depth of Knowledge of mathematics (DOK). With an increased DOK capacity for teachers, it will increase the probability of students’ mathematical capacity improving.

The first level of support provided for teachers in the district is the availability of tutoring for math students every day during a dedicated block of time. Teachers can connect students directly with the Math Specialist via a video platform. This allows one-on-one assistance for students and for teachers, as well. Another level of DOK support for teachers is provided by Mr. White, who sponsors twice a month professional development of various subjects that are taught in math classrooms (fractions, decimals, solving quotations, slope, percent, statistics). These 15-minute sessions are teacher-centered, with the purpose of facilitating a better understanding by teachers of the math topics they are sharing with their students.