Charter middle school rises to mathematics challenge

It’s “Math in Action” at Lighthouse Charter School


   CCLCS associate director Joanne Amaru shows off some of the desktop computers placed at the school by the Masonic Angel Foundation’s Laptops for KidZ project.  The desktops will be used to form mini-labs in each of the school’s mathematics classrooms.

Charter middle school rises to mathematics challenge

 By Walter Brooks

"Half the kids [are] arriving with number sense skills”“The reality is that only about half the kids [are] arriving with number sense skills”, was Executive Director Paul Niles’ report last June to the board of the Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School.

Number sense skills are the most basic, most fundamental of the skills a child must possess to succeed in mathematics.  This fluency with numbers is assumed as a child progresses into middle school level math and begins to learn algebraic thinking and other advanced math concepts.

In recent months, Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School (CCLCS) has grappled with disappointing math skills among incoming students.  The issue came to a head this year when 46% of the CCLCS class of 2013 (last year’s 7th graders) scored either “needs improvement” or “warning” on the spring 2012 MCAS.  The school’s sixth grade scores were also of concern, with 39% of the class of 2014 scoring in the two lowest MCAS categories.

A “skill gap” between children from the Lower Cape vs. those from the Mid-Cape area.As we reported in our September 19, 2012 story, CCLCS MCAS scores generally trended upwards this year.  This includes eighth grade math, where not a single student received a failing score. The rising concern over math scores younger classes is a direct result of the school’s changing demographics.

With more of the charter schools’ students coming from less-than-stellar schools in the mid-Cape area, the school has observed a palpable “skill gap” between children from the Lower Cape versus those from the Mid-Cape area.  While the overall MCAS math scores at CCLCS are on par with the “aggregate district” (a state-prepared compilation across all originating school districts), the charter school is not satisfied with the low cores.  “Our goal is to teach the whole child”, said Paul Niles last week.  “Our language arts and science programs are some of the best anywhere and now we want to advance math to that level, as well.”

“Math in Action”

CCLCS completely re-wrote their math curriculum.Over the summer, CCLCS completely re-wrote their math curriculum.  Teachers have come together to stress number skills across the entire curriculum.  The result of this work is a three-point process to improve math skills of all students attending the charter school:  “Math in Action”, intensive math instruction for students who need it and improved assessment practices to measure all students’ progress.

The school’s science program is a key element of “Math in Action”.  Science and math teachers are working together to have students in both subjects working on the same math concepts, with the same worksheets and the same instructional approach all at the same time.  This applies the concepts from math class in a “real world” science class where those concepts are used to complete science assignments.  All other departments in the building are also building quantitative activities into their instructional program.

Schedule Revolves Around Math

Students who need extra training in math receive intensive instruction during bi-weekly “math seminars”.Students who need extra training in math receive intensive instruction during bi-weekly “math seminars” This year the school reexamined the process they use to group students in math classes, creating an extra level so that kids with advanced skills can move fast enough to be fully prepared for Honors Geometry placement in high school. Students in the slower-paced classes also receive study skills training specific to math.

Students who need extra training in math receive intensive instruction during bi-weekly “math seminars” that last 45 minutes, followed by 45 minutes of “math action” work in hands-on activities (such as planning a garden) that places them in a setting where they must apply their number skills to solve a real-world problem.  Students may also receive a “ticket” to the math computer lab during free periods in order to work on the school’s new ALEKS learning software.

Math teachers conduct weekly formative assessments of students whose math skills need improvement.  Essentially each student has a roadmap of the math skills they must learn to achieve at grade level.  The teachers review each child’s progress weekly and adjust their individualized instruction as necessary.  Much of the assessment work is being done by hand, though ultimately the ALEKS software will provide most of the data for the weekly benchmarks.

“We want our students to graduate from CCLCS with strong fluency in number skills and with all of the tools necessary to excel in high school math.” - Paul Niles.CCLCS has a goal to install 20 computers in each of the three math classrooms so students can work on skill software as often as necessary.  Thanks to the Masonic Angel Fund’s Laptops for KidZ project, 25 refurbished desktop computers were added to the school’s math labs in the past year, putting the school nearly half way to the goal of 60 computers for math instruction.

The Proof is in the Testing

CCLCS has taken the math challenge seriously this year.  The school has adopted a math-centric curriculum model and has implemented several programs to help improve math skills among students who scored low on the MCAS.  Ultimately the spring’s MCAS will be a first benchmark of how well the new math program has succeeded.

“We want our students to graduate from CCLCS with strong fluency in number skills and with all of the tools necessary to excel in high school math,” is Paul Niles’ expectation of his school’s math program.  With students and faculty all working hard towards that goal, Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School may be poised to achieve that goal in the near future.

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