Poplar Bluff Middle School gets $2000 grant for ‘thinking classrooms’

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. (KBSI) – Poplar Bluff Middle School math teachers get a $2000 grant to establish ‘thinking classrooms,’ a data-informed approach to further engaging student learning.

The Poplar Bluff School Foundation funded the grant which bought wipebook flipcharts, markers, erasers and easels, plus the textbook “Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics” by Dr. Peter Liljedahl—a Canadian professor, prolific author and award-winning consultant—were distributed last month through the Foundation’s annual innovative educational project program.

A thinking classroom focuses on 14 teaching practices for enhancing academic success, deconstructing such conventions as: what tasks are used, how collaborative groups are formed, how to arrange furniture, how questions are answered, how to foster student autonomy and how to use formative assessments.

“The ideas in this series are deeply practical, describing how everything in our [learning environment], from the way a teacher asks questions to the de-fronting of a classroom, can add to a student’s learning,” stated the proposal which was co-written by Middle School teachers Kris Sittig and Kara Quade. “…Peter Liljedahl found through extensive research when removing students from their seats and allowing them to work on a vertical Wipebook that students were thinking longer, discussing more, and willing to keep working.”

“It’s much less the old school model of: The teacher does it this way because this is what you do to solve the problem, then practice 40 times. That’s just mimicking, and when you change the question, they’re lost,” Sittig said. “Students come in hating math because maybe [the previous generation] did too, but it’s literally just in the way it’s being taught; we haven’t changed what the numbers do.”

Sittig teaches sixth grade math intervention. She read the book over the summer after hearing the buzz from a math Facebook group she follows. She describes its takeaways as “eye-opening.” Sittig credits the Foundation for enabling the department to get started on Liljedahl’s first set of tenants this semester. She hopes to be able to collaborate with faculty colleagues during an upcoming professional development day.

“It does not take a teacher to stand at the board and walk through the lesson; real education is when a kid can take a problem and break it down on their own, and fully understand what the problem is asking,” said Quade, who teaches fifth grade math. “It’s less about repetition and more about the process, and why.”

The Foundation approved the grant during its quarterly meeting in November. The district agreed to include grades four in the now building-wide initiative, due in part to the endorsement of teacher representative Karmen Carson, who sits on the board.

Carson is a fourth grade math interventionist. She noted during the discussion how she had been exposed to the concept of a thinking classroom while participating in workshops at the Regional Professional Development Center in Cape Girardeau.

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