After a few months of our practice challenge, we finally made it to the real thing. One fateful day in October, we were presented with both our new groups and our new challenge: “how might we increase the use of manipulatives to teach Math in our elementary schools?”
According to Mr. D’Andrea, an instructional coach in the Centennial School District, one of the main recommendations of the Hanover group (a third-party organization hired by our district) was to increase the use of manipulatives to teach Math in the elementary schools. Specifically the manipulatives used to teach Math to supplement the Eureka program used.
We went into the challenge thinking we would develop new manipulatives, but after all the research, including field visits and interviews, by the time we reached the pitch, our solution had evolved in a massively different direction than what we first thought.
Where We Started
When we began our challenge, we knew that the third-graders were struggling to learn Math, as was evident by the data shown in the image above.
We visited Willow Dale Elementary to see if we could gather information to identify what exactly the issue is. To do this, we took a quick trip to the third-grade classrooms at Willow Dale Elementary and had the privilege of interviewing Ms. Topley and watching her teach a math lesson.
Through this experience, we were able to isolate a few specific areas of interest.
First, we learned that students need engaging virtual manipulatives. These would be online math games. We also found that the new curriculum used vocabulary that was difficult to grasp. We also discovered that Willow Dale had a lot of ELL (English Language Learner) students, who, of course, struggled with this vocabulary even more than the native English speakers did. This was because they were being introduced to a new language while also dealing with the complex terms used by the curriculum.
Our Next Steps
We talked to Mr. D’Andrea, and he gave us very useful information on how we should proceed. We had been considering doing a virtual manipulative, but he told us that that wasn’t concrete (the first step of concrete to representational to abstract). This made us rethink what path we were going to go down.
How We Got To Our Problem
We went back to our list of observations and information from the Willow Dale trip. Our next idea was to create a manipulative designed for homework help. We didn’t end up going far with this.
After looking over it we decided to go with helping ESL students. That was when we talked to Mr. Cutillo. He told us more details about the ESL students at Willow Dale and their problems.
How We Got to Our Solution
After talking with Mr. Cutillo and brainstorming a bit, we came up with the idea to make a tutoring program to help ESL students with their math while they get used to the English language. This would prevent them from falling behind before they can really start comprehending English. He gave us a lot of help and ideas for how this could be done, most of which we ended up discussing in our pitch presentation.