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Exemplars in math education

Kent City Elementary classrooms feature in instructional videos

Kent City — For most students, it was just another day of class. But for third-graders and kindergarteners at Kent City Elementary school, April 15 was far from ordinary; their classrooms became film sets for a day, practicing math while a boom mic and three cameras followed their every move. 

The film crew is working on a Math Essentials video series. The videos will showcase the essentials at work in classrooms and serve as professional development tools for educators across Michigan.

Was the crew and all that gear distracting? Not to third-grader Roy Anderson. “We just pretended they weren’t there,” he said. 

But third-grade teacher Morgan Denyes said most of the class wasn’t so nonchalant: “They thought they were going to be movie stars,” Denyes said. “They were very, very excited.”

Sharing What They’ve Learned

Math Essentials is a series of instructional practices produced by Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators’ General Education Leadership Network for Michigan educators. For each of the eight practices outlined in the series, a video like the ones filmed at Kent City Elementary eventually will be created.

Teacher Morgan Denyes has been working with Kent ISD educational consultant Rusty Anderson for two years and is working to become an instructional coach. When Anderson was hired to work on the video project, he reached out to Denyes about being one of the teachers featured. 

Anderson also brought on board kindergarten teacher Heather Carlson, whom he worked with while she was finishing school at Grand Valley State University and has continued to partner with at Kent City. 

Third-grade teacher Morgan Denyes, who is training to become an instructional coach, being interviewed for the Math Essentials video

Exploration and Engagement

On filming day, Denyes and her class demonstrated a “number talk” and an explorative math lesson. During a number talk, Denyes presents a set of dots on the white board and asks her class how many dots they see. 

“They’re mentally computing how they would break apart that array into smaller regions,” Denyes said, “which is exactly why I did that same explorative lesson right after it.” 

“Basically we have to use a strategy we know to figure out … the dots on the board,” third-grader Ryann Kruithoff said. The explorative lesson focused on developing and sharing those strategies.

Students broke down large arrays into smaller sections in order to make area calculations more quickly. “So we went from mentally computing to now I’m manipulating tools in front of me, and bridging that connection from strategies that they see other students doing and how can they apply it themselves.”

The lesson connected to essential number six, which focuses on engaging children regularly in interactive number-sense routines.

Morgan Denyes leads her class in a math lesson while a cameraman catches the action

Independence and Fun with Math

KCE uses Bridges in Mathematics curricula across grade levels, a program which Denyes said values student exploration and gives kids confidence in their mathematical abilities. “Everybody feels like a mathematician, they are doers of math. There’s no one that isn’t good at math, because they all have different skill sets and realize that math is for everyone,” Denyes said.

Carlson’s kindergarten class demonstrated their “number corner” time and math centers on filming day. Number corner is a student-led activity that introduces students to different measurement systems and helps them practice counting and addition strategies. Time at math centers around the classroom also involves mostly independent work, as well as an emphasis on making math fun.

“When you have very high expectations and routines and procedures in place, five and six year olds can do really cool things,” Carlson said. “What [the Math Essentials team] wanted to highlight for kindergarten was just that: they’re not babies, they can do hard things.”

Carlson’s class met the challenge on the day, and enjoyed it, too. “They enjoyed it, it was a lot of fun,” Carlson said. “I think it would probably be the highlight of their year for some of them for sure.”

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Abigail Ham, SNN intern
Abigail Ham, SNN intern
Abigail Ham is an intern reporter covering Kent City and Sparta. She is a junior at Calvin University. She is the managing editor of Calvin’s student newspaper Chimes and editorial assistant for the academic journal Pedagogy. She also enjoys creative writing of all sorts.


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