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Dennis Klenow's Page
Upper Elementary Accelerated Math

I am currently a grade teacher with Clarkston Community Schools. My home school is Independence Elementary.

My interest in accelerating the current fifth grade math curriculum developed from a need identified by teachers at our middle school. We currently identify students at the end of fifth grade that show advanced aptitude in mathematics by asking them to participate in a two stage multiple choice placement test. This multiple phase assessment process helps determine placement of students for sixth grade mathematics.

Students may test into general sixth grade math or may be slotted into an advanced math course. This advanced math course is exposing those identified students to seventh grade mathematics concepts.

Using this identification process, students who place into the advanced math class present with several "holes" in their learning, as they have never directly experienced the sixth grade mathematics curriculum. Currently, instructors of the advanced course begin their year by teaching specific sixth grade concepts before moving on to the seventh grade curriculum. These teachers report feeling rushed, and do not feel as though they have enough time to adequately cover the seventh grade curriculum.

Due to the above scenario, a math action research project (M.A.R.P) was started by interested Clarkston elementary schools and teachers to identify ways in which this issue might be addressed. Different teachers within the project have attempted different approaches such as ability grouping, pull out groups, and curriculum compacting, in efforts to meet the need of these students. Currently at Independence Elementary, we have used ability grouping to identify those top math students who demonstrate the ability to excel in the advanced mathematics class. This process consisted of testing students using a district created assessment that covers all the fifth grade benchmarks in math.

This assessment was used along with a similar assessment from fourth grade and M.E.A.P. scores in math to rank students according to their performance. Fifth grade teachers collaborated and carefully considered all who scored above the predetermined threshold. This conversation, along with the data, allowed us to identify thirty-five fifth grade students for the program. Due to the high number of students being placed in the accelerated class, we were able to create a classroom of fifteen students that required additional support in math.

My goal this year is to increase the pace of the fifth grade curriculum to a level that will afford me adequate time prior to the end of the school year, to expose those top math students to the sixth grade concepts that will be most beneficial to their success in the advanced math class the following year in middle school.

Since this is a new approach for me, I have been looking for new and innovative way to meet the needs of this special group of learners.

This page will offer some resources for those who are looking for information pertaining to the acceleration of curriculum related to math and ability grouping, along with ways others are using technology in the area of mathematics to reach all learners.


Ability Grouping

John Hollifield offers a definition of ability groups in his article entitled, Ability Grouping in Elementary Schools. In addition, he speaks about several different approaches to the ability grouping of students such as between or within class models. In the between class model, students may be grouped by ability across a grade level. Using the within class model, a classroom would be split into two or three groups according to student's levels or need in math or reading. He argues that positive aspects of ability grouping are increased pacing and improved quality of instruction. He also identifies lack of high achieving peers role models as a possible drawback for those students in the lower achieving classrooms.

Weschester Institute For Human Services Research shares in their article entitied, Ability Grouping, that simply grouping students by high, middle, or low achievement does not provide for students success, rather that students need curriculum adjusted to meet their instructional needs. The authors go on to identify a major problem with ability grouping is instruction between high achieving and low achieving groups is not just different, but is usually better in the high achieving groups, creating an equity issue for the lower achieving students. In addition, frequency of ability grouping statistics are shared for middle and high school classrooms.

Robert Slavin offers a review of educational research on abilty grouping in, Ability Grouping and Student Achievement in Elementary Schools: A Best-Evidence Synthesis. He shares his findings of how ability grouping can be effective when done for select subjects only, such as reading or math with students returning to their regular classes for the remainder of the day. He goes on to say that there is no evidence to support the practice of creating self-contained classes of high achieving or low achieving students.

A February 24, 2009, Education World article entitled, Is Ability Grouping the Way to Go --Or Should It Go Away?, explores ability grouping, its effects on students, and a legal opinion on the practice. The author identified pros and cons of ability grouping. According to the article, students benefit from across class grouping in one or two subjects when clustered for a small portion of the day, returning to their heterogeneous classrooms for the remainder. Non-graded grouping, where students are clustered by ability across several grade levels, is stated to have a positive impact on performance. The authors identify the most important component of any grouping system is the teacher's ability to frequently reassess the students skills and to have the flexibility to reassign students when necessary.

Indiana University's School of Education complied a list of websites and journals to provide an introduction to ability grouping. This link is beneficial for anyone interested in learning more about ability grouping and what the experts have to say.


Use of Technology

Philip Devencentis reports how one school district in New Jersey is experimenting with meeting the needs of its top math learners in fourth and fifth grade. In his article entitled, New lab targets 'top-math minds' in Franklin Lakes, Devencentis identifies this idea of ability grouping of students across an entire district, bringing those students together for special instruction. This "Math Lab" has approximatley a twelve to one student to teacher ratio, and pulls students together from across the district to participate in a program with master mathematics teachers which is heavy in problems solving and advanced mathematical concepts. According to the article, the program results have been positive, and students in the program will be on target working on advanced algebra and geometry coursework in the seventh and eighth grades.

A PBS NEWSHOUR report from February 10, 2010 entitled, Math Wiz Adds Web To Take Education To New Limits reports on Salman Kahn creating YouTube videos to teach math and science to millions of students. Mr. Kahn has posted over 1200 videos ranging from simple topics such as basic addition to the more advanced such as calculus. He has also included instructional pieces on topics of science and finance. These videos provide learners another avenue to engage in one on on instruction.

In the January 29th edition of Education Week, Kathleen Kennedy Manzo
wrote an article entitled, Digital Tools Expand Options for Personalized Learning . In this article, Kathleen argues for the use of an individualized curriculum and shares how San Diego schools have used a two billion dollar technology grant to identify specific strengths and weaknesses of students in math, advocating for an individual approach to learning. The district rolled out this plan in 1,300 math classrooms in grades three and six, issuing netbooks to students. Teachers were required to attend 39 hours of training learning to use these computers effectively in their instructional practices. The program is set to be expanded to include additional grades.

In her article entitled, Math instruction can be enhanced by the techie teacher, Marilyn Western shares some of the ways that learners can be reached in math utilizing available technology. Many ideas are shared ranging from the use of digital cameras to spreadsheet applications. She also shares a list of great math websites.

In order to provide an avenue for my students to practice their math skills outside of the classroom, I have complied a list of math websites.

What I learned

Through participation in the Math Action Research Project (M.A.R.P) and researching for this project, I have learned much about my students and how to better reach them in the future.

With the use of a between class ability grouping model for math, we have been able to create homogeneous mathematics classes that focus specifically on the need of the students. In the instructing of the accelerated math group, I have been able to compact the fifth grade curriculum, creating time for sixth grade concepts. I have been amazed by the rapid pace and the deep thinking that has come out of this group. They truly feed off of the competition created. This class, comprised of students identified as having higher aptitude for mathematics, is able to complete units of study almost twice as quickly as our pacing guide suggests.

After reading many articles on ability grouping, it has become apparent that there are differing opinions, as with most educational issues. Many believe that ability grouping has benefits in the areas of math and reading when students are grouped according to their needs. In cases where students were grouped within the same class, as well as when students are grouped across classes, benefits were identified. Students in the higher achieving groups were able to feed off of the deeper thinking of others, and those in the lower groups were no longer overshadowed by the higher achievers, and could share their ideas without feeling inadequate.

Most share the opinion that ability grouping has little to no benefit if students are clustered into homogeneous classes for the entire day. In these cases, ability grouping is often referred to as "tracking", and students in the lower achieving groups identify with this, and feel as though they are being labeled.

I have always approached my teaching thinking about how I can reach all learners. While working with the accelerated math group, I have integrated the use of document cameras, smartboards, CPS chalkboard, and websites. The students working at this level have enjoyed using these tools and demonstrate an excitement about sharing their work with others.

It is my hope to secure grant money to integrate further technology next school year if M.A.R.P. provides the successful outcomes we are anticipating. I envision each student utilizing technology daily such as the netbooks mentioned in the Digital Tools Expand Options for Personalized Learning article.