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Becoming ‘doers of math’

First-year teacher selected for five-year math fellowship

Wyoming — In math teacher Clare Bunton’s algebra class, learning involves a mix of technology, problem-solving and lots of working in groups. 

On a recent Wednesday morning, Wyoming High School students sat at tables of four, working together to find equations equivalent to 4x+y=1 by multiplying both sides with the same number. “I did times 2, times 3 and times 4,” said freshman Ren Brown, while working on a mini whiteboard.

Wyoming High School math teacher Clare Bunton introduces a lesson

Other students asked and answered questions, shared work and helped each other before moving on to the next problem.

They are becoming “doers of math” as opposed to sitting through instruction and memorizing equations, Bunton said. It’s a shift from traditional teacher-led instruction to more collaboration, critical thinking and open-ended investigation. 

On Bunton’s classroom wall hang pictures of students’ ideas on what doing and hearing math looks like: “focused hard work,” “students sharing ideas,” “collaboration,” “group activity,” “class discussion” and “working together” are just a few.

“I love that math is a language we can use to understand so many things in the world,” Bunton said.  “The skills you use in math are essential for everyday life.”

‘Growing as Teachers in Math’

Bunton, a first-year teacher, is one of 29 first- and second-year teachers in the nation selected for the Knowles Teacher Initiative fellowship. She works with a team of fellows to grow their math knowledge, develop leadership skills, improve instruction and learn strategies for teaching a variety of learners. 

“This will allow me to interact with tons of teachers from all over the place. The more I can learn from other teachers, the more I can bring back to Wyoming,” she said.

Bunton graduated from Western Michigan University in December with a degree in secondary education with a focus on math and a minor in physics. She taught physics as a student teacher at Plymouth High School, and had a desire to continue developing her teaching skills. The fellowship was the perfect opportunity.

‘I love that math is a language we can use to understand so many things in the world. The skills you use in math are essential for everyday life.’

— teacher Clare Bunton  

“The whole point of the program is to ensure teachers have the community support to get through the challenges of being a new teacher,” Bunton said, describing a rigorous six-month application and interview process.

“It’s about understanding who we are as teachers and to develop our own content and math knowledge. … It’s about us growing as teachers in math.”

She has so far attended two in-person meetings with her entire cohort of fellows, the first in Philadelphia in July and in Arizona in November. She also meets virtually once a month with a group of four teachers.

‘What does doing math look like?’ students in Clare Bunton’s class have considered

Supporting Her Students

The fellowship provides $9,000 in financial support each year. Bunton plans to spend her first year’s stipend on Spanish classes so she can better serve her Spanish-speaking students.

In considering where she wanted to teach, Bunton said she wanted to choose a district “that aligned with my beliefs for teaching math.” She also wanted a diverse school that embraces teaching about social justice issues. Wyoming fit the bill.

She said the district’s new curriculum, Illustrative Mathematics, focuses on helping students develop skills that are valuable in every job and career. “Math is applicable to everyone’s life after high school,” she said.

After a few months in Bunton’s class, students said they are learning about themselves and others.

 “People solve equations in different ways and there’s not just one way to do it,” said freshman Alex Perales. “The collaboration part is a better way to learn because you can experience math in different ways.

Added freshman Gegni Morales: “People learn from each other and through communication.”

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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