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  • Palmyra-Macedon Central School District
  • Palmyra-Macedon Intermediate School


NOV.16, 2023- Think about how you first learned math when you were in school. Now throw it out the window. That’s how some Pal-Mac classrooms are handling an innovative approach to student learning.


The approach is called “Building Thinking Classrooms,” and it focuses on a more active, student-led effort when it comes to learning math.


The concepts are part of a book by the same name, written by author Peter Liljedahl.  Right now, nine Pal-Mac teachers are studying the book and are applying some of its strategies to the classroom.


We spent a day in Intermediate School math teacher Cherie Dragomani’s class to see what it's all about. 


“You have to see it to believe it,” Dragomani said. “It’s different, so different.”


Different, because instead of sitting at their desks and listening to instruction, students were standing and moving around. 


But there’s a purpose behind it, we promise.


Each class period begins with a briefing, it’s where Dragomani presents a problem to the students. At the root of each problem is a set of numbers. Dragomani then tasked the students with making five expressions with those numbers. 


An expression is a number, an operation sign (multiplication, division, subtraction, or adding) followed by another number.


Students then break off into randomized groups, which Dragomani picks daily. The groups set up in front of one of several whiteboards and or sheet paper setups along the classroom walls. 


Then it’s up to them to figure out the rest.


“They're talking, and they’re talking math,” Dragomani said. “They're doing math, and they don't even realize they're doing math.”


Students will rotate roles from problem to problem. One person holds a marker at a time while the others strategize. Everyone has a hand in solving the problem, and students are not allowed to sit down and not help. 


If a student or a group is having trouble with a problem, they have the ability to move around the room and look at how other groups are solving their problems. The idea is for the students to learn how others learn and give positive feedback.


One of Dragomani’s students, Kono, said she enjoys the new approach. She says sitting down at the desk and simply writing on a piece of paper didn’t allow for the same teamwork.


“When you’re on a board and you’re in a group, you can ask people if our work math is correct,” Kono said. “When you keep working together more and more, you can understand what [a classmate] is trying to say.”


Dragomani keeps a close eye on the groups while they work, and will occasionally step in to offer up a suggestion, or to ask questions. 


You read that right, she asks the questions. 


“I'm just asking them to really explain their thinking and what could you do differently,” Dragomani said “And that's why I don't let them erase so that they can see what they did before and can make improvements on their problem-solving.”


While the approach may be different, it still falls in line with New York State education standards.


So why bring this technique to Pal-Mac?


Dragomani says she learned about the concept through her husband, who teaches math in the Penfield Central School District. Over the Summer, she approached the District’s Instructional Coach for Professional Learning Kristen Wright-Bigler about the idea. 


The two decided to introduce the practice in the form of a book study. Wright-Bigler says its implementation is tied to the District’s seven-year “Blueprint for Action” plan. Specifically, the decision fell under the objective of “Academic Excellence.” 


The teachers who were taking part in the book study did so voluntarily. 

“It’s not about a program, it’s about an approach and a philosophy,” Wright-Bigler said.            

Dragomani says there was a learning curve to philosophy at first, partly because students were used to the traditional way of learning. But she also had to re-tool her approach, as the philosophy emphasizes autonomy and delegation over total teacher control.


Despite that, Dragomoni says she is seeing extensive personal and student growth over the last few months. Tests are still in the standardized format, but Dragomani’s assessment of student success goes beyond that.


She says she’s seen students who may have struggled in the previous learning format understand the concepts a little better. 


“We want problem solvers, we want thinkers, we want kind students,” Dragomani said.”And I think that that's what this brings.”


Those traits are something Dragomani says will help students down the line when they look for a career. 


For now, the goal is to keep implementing techniques from the book in the test classrooms. 


Wright-Bigler says she and the nine teachers are working together on a proposal to expand the practice within the District.


A timeline is still being developed.


“My goal is to just keep doing it,” Dragomani said. “We’ll find tasks that are like this that support the standards that we're teaching and the program that we're using and just keep kids thinking and talking about math and getting excited about it.”

  • Palmyra-Macedon CSD
  • Palmyra-Macedon Intermediate School

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