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Cabell Teachers Leading Innovative Mathematics Teaching Improvement Effort as Part of Statewide Network

Over the past year, three Cabell County School teachers have played an integral role in the growth of a statewide improvement network focused on mathematics teaching and learning. Mathematics teachers Adam Riazi (Cabell Midland High School), Michael Harshbarger (Cabell County Career Technology Center), and Kyle Berry (Barboursville Middle School) have been serving as Fellows in the “Mountaineer Mathematics Master Teachers” (M3T) project. 

The M3T project network began in 2020 thanks to a six-year, $3 million grant to West Virginia University from the National Science Foundation’s Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, supported by additional grants from the West Virginia Department of Education. The M3T project builds on previous efforts to support secondary mathematics teacher leadership and instructional improvement across West Virginia, which started in Pocahontas County more than a decade ago. 

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to work with some of the best math teachers in West Virginia…who would be among the best anywhere…to get more students ‘doing math’ and doing so successfully,” said Berry. “Finding ways to surmount the obstacles that can prevent learning can feel too big for any one person. M3T Fellows work collaboratively and use their combined expertise to devise and test solutions to these challenges.” 

“Becoming an M3T Noyce Fellow has been the single most rewarding and enriching experience in my nearly two decades of teaching,” said Riazi, who is a member of the first Cohort of M3T Noyce Fellows in West Virginia. 

“This project continues to encourage me to reimagine what I can do to get more students doing math,” said Harshbarger, who is one of 43 M3T Fellows supported by the project, representing 29 counties across West Virginia. The project has also allowed Harshbarger to grow as a teacher leader, putting her in a position to share improvement strategies and data collection with her peers.

As part of the project, M3T Fellows must continue to serve in their role as a middle or high school mathematics teacher and work as a network to identify and solve specific problems in their own classrooms and share that learning. Riazi and Harshbarger have also recruited and led an M3T “local improvement team” with Cabell County Schools colleagues Courtney Powers, Virginia Hardin, and Courtney Sybor from Cabell Midland High School and Amy McCloud, Joe Crowe, and Justin Cox from Huntington High School to extend the reach of M3T’s improvement efforts. Beginning next year, Berry and other Cohort 3 Fellows will lead “local improvement teams” with colleagues in their school or district to further grow the M3T network. By the end of the project, Fellows will be supported to mentor other emerging teacher leaders across the state. 

Adam Riazi and the Cabell Midland High School Local Improvement Team have worked for the past year to use peer observation as a method for continuous self-improvement in their mathematics classrooms. The team developed a protocol called “Glow, Grow, and Go!” where teachers identify one strength and one area for improvement for each of their peers, then research and implement an intervention designed to address an identified weakness that is most important to them, personally. The school has also worked on improving student discourse in the mathematics classroom and effective strategies for generating relevant student questions during instruction. 

Michael Harshbarger and the Huntington High School team have worked for the past year to address prerequisite skills that are prohibiting grade-level coursework in their mathematics classrooms. Guided by the M3T network’s approach to improvement, the team has tested the use of multiplication fact practices that will improve grade-level coursework with a focus on fluency, which will make students better prepared for grade-level material. Through collaboration with math teachers from around the state, their team was able to find an engaging practice that resulted in improved fluency.

“After the first two assessments of the 2nd cycle, the practice activity made a significant improvement in correct answers,” said Joe Crowe. Justin Cox stated, “I’m excited to see how the gains the students are making in multiplication are going to transfer to the grade level content.”

Berry has worked collaboratively with other M3T Fellows over the past year to address a lack of prior knowledge and perseverance in their mathematics classrooms. Guided by the M3T network’s approach to improvement, Berry has tested the use of 3-Act Math Tasks, which are visually presented mathematical situations that force students to identify the mathematical question that needs answering by creating practical models and reasonable solutions. He is also bringing in the latest technology, such as Open AI’s Chat GPT, to refine and improve existing instructional methods and develop unique new ones, even giving the students a chance to develop these ideas from a description given by the AI. “On a whim, I once asked Chat GPT if it could invent a new math learning game,” said Berry. “Instantly, it started describing what it called ‘Math Maze Challenge’ where students navigate a maze by solving math problems. The paths can vary depending on the difficulty of the problems, giving every student a challenging game experience. I was amazed! I asked it to produce an overview and scoring rubric…which it did easily…and I gave it to the students as a project. Rarely have I seen students so excited to get to work.”    

The team has shared their ideas with other mathematics educators across the state—both on M3T network calls as well as through a poster presentation at the annual conference of the West Virginia Council of Teachers of Mathematics, held in March. “‘Mathematical Struggles Make Us Mathematically Strong’ was the title,” said Berry, “It referred to the perseverance element of our experiment with the 3-Act Math Tasks, which demand much more of students than fill-in-the-blank worksheets. A lesson cannot change you if it does not challenge you, and it takes perseverance to overcome challenges.” Both Riazi and Harshbarger presented during the M3T Poster Session “Understanding ‘Bugs,’ Testing and Refining Changes” during the conference and frequently lead professional development for teachers across Cabell County. Adam S. Riazi represented M3T, presenting a fellow’s perspective on “Supporting Statewide, Networked Improvement of Mathematics Teaching” at the 2022 national Noyce Summit in Washington D.C. Michael Harshbarger also held a session titled “Making Problem Solving Hands-On.” 

While the M3T project grant supports the activity of Riazi, Harshbarger, and Berry as Fellows, Cabell County Schools has supported the work of the local improvement team, providing time and resources for the group to meet. 

"As the Cabell County School Superintendent, I am thrilled to witness the transformative impact of the Mountaineer Mathematics Master Teachers (M3T) project on our participating math teacher fellows,” says Dr. Ryan Saxe. “This initiative serves as a beacon of excellence, fostering secondary mathematics teacher leadership and driving instructional improvement within our district. The M3T project empowers our educators to engage in professional growth, collaborate with their peers, and unlock innovative teaching strategies. By equipping our math teacher fellows with the tools and support they need, we are nurturing a vibrant culture of mathematical literacy and academic achievement. The M3T project stands as a testament to our commitment to providing our students with the highest quality mathematics education, ensuring their success in an ever-evolving world."

In addition to the local improvement team efforts, M3T Fellows are currently working to develop deeper understandings of topics related to data and statistics, as relatively new—though vital—content expectations in middle and high school mathematics classrooms. Fellows will share these and other takeaways from the year at the M3T Summer Institute, being held in June in Morgantown. The network will be sharing reports on progress made with educators across the state starting in the fall.