Middle School Math: Beyond The Numbers

Middle school math brings new academic demands. TPS students are taught how to persevere through those academic challenges with the support of knowledgeable and insightful adults. Our math department, made up of Je Un Park, Julia Tkac, Nicole Seltzer, and Liz McCannell, work together to ensure that there is programmatic alignment across all the middle school grades. This alignment begins with the curriculum we use, Connected Mathematics Project, and extends to the thoughtful instructional decisions teachers make on a daily basis.

Connected Math Project (CMP) is a problem-based program that aligns with TPS’ progressive, inquiry-based approach of teaching and learning. Mathematical concepts and meaningful skills are explored in-depth and in a particular sequence. This allows students to build their mathematical understandings and habits over each successive unit. This structured approach develops flexible and nimble skills, and habits that allow students to see connections across different mathematical strands and real world applications.

The math skills we all learned as children are present in what our students are learning today. How they are learning the content and applying their skills are the key differences. At TPS, students are given concrete feedback on the skills they are learning so they can become more facile in applying them. They are encouraged to construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others. They are pushed to show their thinking and use precise mathematical language. All of these aspects matter and contribute to the deep mathematical understanding children take with them when they leave our school.

antoine-dautry-05A-kdOH6Hw-unsplash.jpg

At TPS, we believe that math should be engaging, challenging, and fun. But none of what we do is possible without the right adults to engage in the work. It is easy for me to say that we have the right team in place! Our middle school math team members have a combined 31 years mathematics teaching experience. They are professional, knowledgeable, thoughtful, and exceptional mathematics leaders.

Together, they will ensure that your children leave TPS equipped with solid skills as well as the mindset and habits they need to be successful no matter which high school environment they choose to attend.

In partnership,

Yves Kabore
Upper School Division Director

Upper School Back To School Night 2019 - Lisa Sun

Good evening, parents! We are so happy to have you here so you can meet your child’s teachers and to hear about the year ahead.

As an educator, my favorite and most rewarding part of my work has always been focused on program aspects that include instruction, curriculum, teacher training/teacher development, and student support. 

I began my teaching career with an internship at the Francis Parker School in Chicago. That first experience in a progressive school was unlike anything I experienced as a student who attended public school. 

Like Francis Parker, TPS is a progressive school. While last year, my first year as Head of School was spent learning about the TPS curriculum and program, this year, my goal is to make sure that our community is grounded in a shared understanding of what progressive education is.

Progressive education is different from being progressive-minded or holding progressive ideology. TPS’ pedagogical approach--that is, our method and practice of teaching--is grounded in the tenets of progressive education. As such, we hold to an educational approach that:  

  • Attends to the whole child

  • Is inquiry-based

  • Allows our children to learn by doing

  • Recognizes the student voice as an integral part of the curriculum

  • Encourages students to be active participants of their learning instead of passive recipients

  • Emphasizes deep understanding over breadth of content

  • Is collaborative--our students work and learn from each other

  • Teaches our children to participate in a democratic process and engage in active citizenship

Throughout my many years in schools, I’ve heard first-hand the impact a progressive educational experience has had on people and the ways that it helped prepare them for life after school. When talking to alums who are scientists, activists, writers, academics and artists, the one overarching thing I hear is that their school experience fostered a natural curiosity. They asked questions and they knew they needed to be actively engaged in finding those answers.

They were not taught what to think, they were taught how to think, how to puzzle, grapple, and try--sometimes fail--and try again. There is grit and tenacity that is developed when students are not given the answers and information but expected to participate and be engaged in their quest for knowledge. 

Now as the parent of a 9th grader, who is at a very fine school, I find myself mourning the loss of a progressive school for my son. There are hours of homework, there are quizzes, tests, final exams and grades for participation, and I wish--and hope--that he will find joy in learning. That he will find something that really excites and challenges him. I hope that the rigor of work will not put out the spark of discovery. I hope his teachers will ask his opinion, that his questions might shape what/how he learns, and that teachers will know him as well as he was known at TPS. 

Earlier, I mentioned that the work of academic program is what I love--curriculum planning, teacher training and development, student support and meeting students where they are are all the things that excite me and drew me into administrative work.  

Since last year, Yves, members of the program team, and I have been engaging in deep discussions about our curriculum, utilizing qualitative and quantitative data, and considering on-going professional development for our teachers.

This summer, we sent our entire middle school math team to Michigan State University to attend a week-long workshop where they were guided through the Connected Math Project training.  

We are in the second year of a school-wide reading professional development under the guidance of a reading specialist who utilizes the Teachers’ College Reading and Writing Project model. The purpose is to have a shared framework for reading instruction across the school, inspire teachers, and provide coaching in the use of this reading workshop model.

I share all of this with you so that can understand the ways that our academic leadership team is working very intentionally and purposefully to provide a strong academic program grounded in our progressive pedagogy.  

Qualitative and quantitative data confirms that we have a strong program. As Alyssa Rickels, the Middle School Dean of Students, and Yves visited secondary schools this summer, they heard over and over that TPS students are strong candidates and highly sought-after students.  

When we review ERB scores of the 7th grade students, TPS scores are highly competitive against other independent school norms in language arts and math. Our overall composite scores have our students outscoring other independent school students. These scores are for all independent schools, even those that are traditional and emphasize tests and test-taking. 

This is my son’s first year in a more traditional school and he is transitioning just fine.  He’s academically prepared for the work but more importantly, he works hard. He understands his role and responsibility in his education. As a freshman, he’s still finding his way, but I know that we’ve prepared him well. 

My son has been in progressive schools pretty much his whole school career, and I firmly believe that he is successful and engaged because he learned in environments that encouraged him to take safe risks, to explore, to ask questions, to seek his own answers, and to be his true authentic self.

As you go into classrooms tonight, I hope you’ll look for the ways that your children will experience engagement and joyful learning; the ways that your children are active participants in their learning; and the ways that we are working to live our mission to educate children for a future that is impossible to know but not impossible to shape. 

Lower School Back to School Night 2019 - Lisa Sun

Welcome! We are delighted to have you here so you can meet your child’s teachers and hear about the rich year ahead.

Many thanks to the teachers who have worked tirelessly to create a warm, inviting, and inspiring classroom learning environments. They’ve launched us into a very strong start to the year. I am grateful for the leadership of my program team that includes Erin, Yves, Allison, and Brian, each of whom play an important role in the academic work of students.  

TPS recently completed a strategic vision.  One of the main goals of our vision is to make TPS a leader in progressive education. As an educator and as a parent, I firmly believe in our school’s mission and our progressive approach.

My focus for this year is to ground the TPS community around a shared understanding of progressive education. We are continuing these conversations as teachers and administrators, and we’ll continue to communicate with you all about the value and importance of our distinct progressive approach to teaching your children. 

Our pedagogy is grounded in the tenets of progressive education. Tonight, Erin will speak more about these progressive tenets, and I hope you’ll hear more details from the teachers about the ways in which our program reflects our progressive approach that:

  • Attends to the whole child

  • Is inquiry-based

  • Allows our children to learn by doing

  • Encourages students to be active participants of their learning instead of passive recipients

  • Emphasizes deep understanding over breadth of content

  • Is collaborative--our students work and learn from each other

  • Teaches our children to participate in a democratic process and engage in active citizenship

Tonight, I want to spend a few minutes focused on participating in democratic process and active citizenship.  

As a parent and school leader, I deeply believe in progressive education. I am inspired by the impact that progressive education has had on my own children. They’ve attended progressive schools their entire lives. My children often inspire me with their astute observations, insights and questions. They ask really hard questions and they challenge me, my thinking and my comfort. I’m convinced that it’s because of the schools that they have attended.

My 9-year-old is my second child and she has been in progressive schools since she was 4 years old. She embodies a bold and strong stance. She’s goofy, loves to laugh, and loves new adventures. And she is incredibly brave.

Last weekend, she was at Six Flags and rode Kingda Ka, the world’s tallest rollercoaster and second fastest at a speed of 128 mph. And she loved it. 

I firmly believe that she is brave because she learned in environments that encouraged her to take safe risks, explore, ask questions, seek her own answers and be her true, authentic self.

Like many of you, my hope is for my daughter is to lead a full and meaningful life.  My wish is that she’ll continue to be a someone who isn’t afraid to try new things, to experience life and adventure. But the greatest hope I have is for her is to lead a life that makes a difference. I want her to feel a sense of responsibilIty for something outside of just herself. 

Our students have been engaging in conversations about the science of climate change and have decided to participate in tomorrow’s Global Climate Strike. They want to make a difference and practice what it means to be engaged in a democratic process and be active citizens who speak up and advocate for important causes.

As I shared during my talk last week, the purpose of education is not just to produce students who are just vessels for facts and information. The purpose of education is to empower our children to make a difference, to be kind, create change, and work for a more fair and just world.  

It’s truly an honor to work at a school that is committed to their mission of “TPS educates children for a future that is impossible to know but not impossible to shape.”

Lower School Back to School Night 2019 - Erin Gordon

Good evening and welcome.

This evening is a real highlight for us as educators in our treasured journey to partner with you around educating your children.

While you’ll learn from your child’s teachers about the inner-workings of the classroom and the curricular arc of the year, I want to talk for a bit about the bigger picture, what it means for your young children to be students at our school, an academically excellent, progressive school. 

At TPS, our students engage in deep, authentic, rich content and use an evolving toolkit of carefully taught skills across their days. I saw a third grade parent at dismissal recently, and I asked her how her son was feeling about third grade so far. She said,  “It’s going great. I’ve got to tell you what he said about his teacher. He said, ‘Mom, Kaitlin really gets me as a writer.’” This simple line struck me for many reasons. 

  1. This 8-year-old boy views himself as a writer. Not someone who is learning to write or whose teacher is a writer. He has developed a sense of self and purpose as a young child and sees himself as a writer, a writer who has the power to communicate and the power to continue to grow and develop as all writers do.

  2. He feels known and seen by his teacher (on like the 5th day of school) as a writer, a part of his academic identity. 

  3. He feels supported by his teacher. She knows him as a writer for a reason. Knowing a child and their development allows us to know where to direct or encourage the child next. It informs us in our next steps as teachers.

I want to lift this child’s quote up because it’s one I think we could hear across our school in many different contexts: “They really get me as a mathematician.” “They really get me as a reader.” “They really get me as a researcher or a scientist or a friend or a community member.“

At TPS we do “get” kids in all of these ways. This is the power of our progressive pedagogy. It’s because of our progressive pedagogy that we are able to build a rich, compelling, and powerful academic program. 

We understand that there is a close relationship between child development and learning, and that children’s emotional lives are inseparable from their learning, interests, and motivation. We set out to use what we know about how children learn to create classrooms that embody the ideals and practices of a democratic community. In contrast to a more traditional, rote-learning environment, we encourage children to be active: to venture out and inquire about the world around them.

So, yes, we do know kids in all of their facets, and we want children to know and understand themselves in those ways as well. As early as kindergarten, we expect children to engage with us in conversation about what they are working on in their reading, for example, and to show us what that looks like. That is our way of validating the work they are doing, re-enforcing the child’s identity as a reader, and informing our knowledge of the child’s reading development. It’s from small questions like, “What are you working on in your reading?” that allow us to elicit important information and strategize around the next steps in our instruction. 

A professor of mine in graduate school said something so simple yet powerful to me that I now always keep at the center of my thinking about progressive education. He said, when you think about progressive, you need to look at a the root of that word, “PROGRESS”. Progressive educators use their knowledge of individual children and child development to progress, to move with children in their understanding and application of content and skills.

As you may know, one of the core tenants of progressive education is attending to the whole child. We believe that a child’s academic and social-emotional selves are interconnected and serve each other. It’s our job to know and teach into both. Research shows that when a child’s social-emotional self is well known and cared for, they are more able to take risks, engage bravely, and participate productively in their learning. Our attention to the whole child allows us to provide every classroom and every child with the highest quality academic program and outcomes. 

Another aspect of our progressive approach that allows children to feel safe enough to take risks and lean into new learning is the value we place on community. Our teachers and your children work all day every day to learn what it means to be part of a community - the responsibilities, the care-taking necessary, the benefits, the challenges. Learning, both academic and ethical, happens with and from one another in a community. 

Collaboration is also critical. In our school, you will see adults working with children with an emphasis on collaborative problem-solving. We look for and want to hear many voices in understanding situations and scenarios. The ability to hear, respond to, and be comfortable with varying perspectives provides children with deeper and more complex learning opportunities. 

And, Social Justice fuels our purpose. While community and responsibility are surely alive within the classroom, we are ultimately working with children to help locate themselves in widening circles of care that extend beyond self, beyond friends, beyond their own known experience in order to take action and seek to know about and positively impact the lives of others. While we don’t expect this of our youngest children, this is what we work towards. 

Our progressive pedagogy, the beliefs that savvy educators over a hundred years ago lifted up when looking for ways to bring the qualities of democratic society into the classrooms of children, are at the heart of what allows us to teach your children the skills, hard skills and soft skills, with the quality, consistency, and passion that you will hear about tonight. For at the end of the day, our belief in children and their potential underlies all that we do. Children - their wants, interests, needs - are at the center of our decision making at TPS. We don’t simply design curriculum that is recycled year in and year out. We take our cue from children, the particular group of children that is in front of us at the moment. 

These early years of schooling are so precious. We are grateful to have the opportunity to shape them for your child and for your trusting in us to do so. I look forward to the year ahead and to getting to know the readers, the writers, the mathematicians, the scientists, the naturalists, and the friends and community members in our lower school. I know with all my heart that they will be seen, they will be known, and they will be taught with excellence and care.

Upper School Back to School Night 2019 - Yves Kabore

Good evening everyone and welcome to Back to School Night.  I can’t believe that I’m starting my 4th year at TPS--it feels like my 10th. I look out into the crowd and I am pleased to say that I actually know most of you. And most of you know that I too am a TPS parent. My children argue with me as much as your children argue with you. They ask hundreds of questions, never take no for an answer and never want to go to bed.  That’s kind of our fault. You’re welcome!  

Back to school night is an opportunity to come together as a community, a chance for you to hear from classroom teachers, and for us, as a school, to talk about what your child will do and learn this year. They’ll learn all of the core academic skills that they need, that’s a given. But the product of what we do here at TPS is far more nuanced than that.  The path to the kind of learning students do here at TPS is not always linear and progress can be challenging to quantify. Over the course of my career, I’ve had many conversations about the things that can be measured about a child’s learning. I guess it’s human nature to seek a certain score, a grade, or dare I say, a percentile rank.  That’s the way most of us grew up.

Our pedagogical approach at TPS, however, is driven by the tenets of progressive education and allows us to attend to the whole child. We focus on depth of learning to arrive at an end goal of competence, confidence, and strength of character through a very nuanced and complex process.  

As I’ve transitioned into leading our upper school, I’ve thought a lot about how we can meet the needs of a wide range of learners while holding true to our progressive values and emphasizing concrete learning at the same time. Doing this well is what makes our graduates highly sought after, and highly successful no matter what type of high school they decide to attend. So how do we do it and what exactly do we do?  

First, we focus on essential questions: 

  • How is power gained, kept and resisted? 

  • How does the land define us?  

  • What does it mean to be a responsible, active citizen?  

These questions allow us to dive deep and navigate learning in a multidisciplinary manner.  They are asked and emphasized throughout the books we read, what we write about and what we discuss. This broad focus, as opposed to a narrow path, allows all children to have an entry point to understanding, a significant seat at the table and the opportunity to engage in the process in a manner that serves them well as individuals. 

Next, we focus on habits of mind. 

In math, we ask children to make sense of problems and persevere in solving them, to use appropriate tools strategically, to reason abstractly and quantitatively, and to construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others. We do this with an understanding that mathematical skills are meaningful, but only if we foster a mindset that allows for the deep understanding of those skills. The standards of mathematical practice, a few of which I just shared, allow us to do so. Regardless of the skills we navigate with kids, such as multiplicative thinking, fractions and decimal concepts, expressions, equations, rational numbers, integers, the Pythagorean theorem and the skills our upper school kids will learn, it’s the habits of mind that make the learned skills stay with them long after their time at TPS.  

Lastly, we hire outstanding educators! 

We’re in the very fortunate position of receiving dozens and dozens of applicants, from all over the country, for every teacher opening. Such talented and diverse applicant pools have resulted in us adding new faculty from New York, San Francisco, Tokyo and, of course, right here in Philadelphia. Our new faculty members have combined with TPS vets to make up the best team of teachers I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.  

As a staff member, but most importantly as a parent, I can assure you that you and your children are in the right place, in the right school, at the right time.  Welcome to Back to school night! I hope you all enjoy your evening.